I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken
better care of myself."
— Mickey Mantle
According to a recent survey by Men's Health magazine and CNN, one-third of American men have not had a checkup in the past year. Nine million men haven't seen a doctor in the last five years.
An American Medical Association study in 1990 found that men don't go to the doctor because of fear, denial, embarrassment and threatened masculinity. Billie Pugh, a Texas heart specialist, explains, "From Little League on, you hear boys told to 'shake it off.' To admit to having pain or some other problem is seen as a confession of weakness. It threatens our male pride and our provider roles—the things we've grown up with and that we've been taught."
The male denial factor is unrelated to occupation, age level, race or socioeconomic status. No matter how smart a man is, no matter what kind of professional status he's achieved, he can still ignore things he shouldn't ignore and pay the unnecessary consequences.
Those consequences can be serious. Before age 65, men suffer 2.5 times more heart attacks than women. By age 65, one in three men suffers from high blood pressure, a primary risk for heart attacks. Yet men are less likely than women to have their blood pressure checked. Below are some more facts:
- Each year, men make 150 million fewer trips to doctors than women (the disparity occurs in every age group, not just the years some women have prenatal checkups.)
- One in nine men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, yet few will have the easy and painless digital rectal exam and prostate specific antigen blood test to detect it (women, facing similar odds of breast cancer, are much more likely to examine their breasts regularly and have a mammogram).
- Men are at greater risk of stress-related illnesses than women, yet only 20 percent of the people in the typical stress-management program are men. Men are 30 percent more likely than women to have a stroke.
- One out of three male strokes occur before age 65. Each year, over 50,000 men die of emphysema, one of the most preventable diseases. It has been estimated that more than 3 million men are walking around with early type II diabetes, a disease with major complications, and don't know it.
Clearly, the price of denial is high.
it time for a tune-up?
Show me a man whose car is 500 miles overdue for an oil change, and I'll show you a truly guilty man. The average guy takes great pride in his automobile, and he knows that, regardless of the make or age, he needs to keep it in top shape in order for it to perform well and safely.
Now, show me a man whose body is 500 days overdue for a regular medical checkup, and I'll show you Mr. Normal. Give me a couple more minutes, and I'll have no trouble finding dozens more just like him. After all, a third of all American men haven't had a checkup in the last year, and nine million of them haven't seen a doctor in at least five years.
Why do we pamper a piece of machinery that takes only money to replace, while we ignore the only body we've got? It has to do with what we've been taught it is to be a man. Think about some of the phrases we use: "Take it like a man," "Tough it out," "Roll with the punches."
From an early age, our culture teaches us that real men are "bulletproof." To be sick, or even to admit to the possibility, is taken as weakness. That's a ridiculous notion, of course. Not going to the doctor doesn't prevent disease. In all likelihood, a problem ignored is one that will become progressively worse-even deadly.
Tough as we may be, fear also enters into the equation. Time and again, men who finally get the nerve to come see me—or, more likely, who are pushed through the door by their wives—say that solving the problem was a piece of cake compared with worrying about it. Knowing what we do and don't face is a lot less stressful than the fruits of a vivid imagination.
Taking the mystery out of male health is the purpose of this column. In future installments we'll talk about uniquely male ailments such as impotence, prostate enlargement, and prostate cancer. You'll find out that there are many options for treating such problems, that treatment is simpler and more successful than in the past-and that it's not nearly as scary as you thought.
But I also hope you'll write and tell me what you want to learn about. It's a simple first step toward taking control of your own health. The next ones will come even more easily, until you're well on the way to living a longer, happier life.