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A Healthier Husband

Health Hurdle #2: Prompt Attention to Scary Symptoms

Smart nudge: Express concern; don't blame or shame.

If your husband isn't taking care of a health problem, you're probably feeling very frustrated, says psychologist William Pollack, Ph.D., director of the Harvard-affiliated Center for Men and Young Men at McLean Hospital. "But accusing him of dragging his feet will only backfire. It can make a guy feel like a bad boy, and he may become even more resistant."

Nor should you schedule a doctor's appointment for him unless he asks you to. "In my experience, most guys won't go if something's forced on them," Pollack says. "Instead, gather information about the best doctor in your area for the condition, then ask your husband to make the appointment." Offer to go with him, Pollack suggests. "He'll feel supported."

That's what helped get Ira Morrow, 54, a retired forklift operator from Vermilion, OH, to the doctor when he began having breathing difficulties. He was then referred to a specialist, who diagnosed silicosis, a lung disorder triggered by one of Morrow's earliest jobs as a sandblaster. Ultimately, he had to decide whether to have a lung transplant. "My wife, Linda, listened, but she never nagged, never insisted," says Morrow, who had the transplant and reports, "It turned my life around."

What medical issues might prompt your gentle urging? Inattention to already diagnosed health problems like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes, as well as difficulty sleeping or pain that doesn't get better in a few days. But you also shouldn't overlook these less obvious signs of trouble.

  • A growing belly. This can be a warning sign for metabolic syndrome, a condition that raises his risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and possibly even some cancers. About 25 percent of men have the syndrome.
  • Discouragement or irritability. These may signal depression, but the disease can also masquerade as anger, fatigue, or sleep problems. An estimated six million American men have depression.
  • Less interest in sex and/or erectile problems. He may have low testosterone, which can also manifest itself as fatigue, depression, or trouble concentrating. A low level of the male hormone is a problem for an estimated four to five million men.

Say it like this: I'm concerned about what I've been noticing, and I'll feel better if you see a doctor. Then follow up with facts about what you see, Pollack suggests. "Avoid criticism." If your spouse continues to ignore the problem or if it's serious, it's time for something stronger: I'm worried about you. I love you, I want to have you around a long time. It's important to me that you see the doctor. And if you think he's really in danger, says Pollack, try: If you keep going on like this, I'm afraid I'm going to lose you.

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