Men rarely see Thomas J. Weida, MD, for medical tests without prodding from a wife or girlfriend. When they do show up, Weida jokes that he “can see the drag marks on the carpet.”
It’s amusing, of course. But it can quickly turn serious when a man ignores important symptoms. Weida says he knows of men who got away with ignoring chest pain for a couple of weeks. Eventually, though, they died of heart attacks.
Among Bill Clinton's post-White House ventures, one of the more striking is his campaign to reverse trends in childhood obesity. It's been remarkable for its ambition, and for the scope of its potential benefits. But perhaps most of all, it's been remarkable to see someone of Clinton's typically diet-oblivious gender speak publicly about laying off the cheeseburgers.
Doctors WebMD posed that question to cited a number of possible reasons men avoid doctor visits. Among those reasons were stoicism, high cost, busy schedules, the challenge of getting an appointment, or the embarrassing possibility of the digital rectal exam. Another theory about why men don’t go is that women get more accustomed to visiting doctors than men do. They go to doctors because of pregnancy. And they are more often the parent who takes the children for medical appointments.
Of course, some men might simply be afraid of what a doctor might say. Millions of men are still smoking, eating poorly, drinking too much, or not exercising. They often pay for these bad habits because those habits can have severe consequences for their health.
The question of what to do about men’s reluctance to see a doctor has bedeviled health professionals for decades. Complicating it is the debate within the medical community about whether an annual checkup is really the best way to deal with problems stemming from lifestyle choices.
Surveys show that many doctors and patients still believe in the power of the annual exam. But back in 1995, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an expert panel convened by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, rejected the idea that the standard annual physical exam is an effective tool for improving the health of patients. What the panel did say was that the content and frequency of periodic health exams needed to be “tailored to the age, health risks, and preferences of each patient.”
Also, the task force found little evidence of important benefits from certain routine tests that were regularly included as part of an annual exam. These tests included blood tests for diabetes, thyroid diseases, or anemia; chest x-rays; electrocardiograms; and urine tests. Instead, the panel said doctors and nurses should deliver prevention messages about personal health