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Are men “too tough” for the Doctor?

Here’s something I bet you’ve never heard: “Ooh, I hope I get sick soon so I can go visit the doctor!”

And sure, I get it. No one wants to feel lousy. But when we do feel under the weather, most of us view physicians as a source of welcome relief. Unless, perhaps…

Unless, perhaps, you’re my husband.

My husband – along with almost every man I know – HATES going to the doctor. I’ve seen him choose over-the-counter medicines when he knows a prescription would work better. I’ve heard him tell me he “feels fine” when I can see the sweat beads from a fever all over his forehead.

I will never forget the day I walked into my house after work and found him operating on an ingrown toenail. There were cotton balls, tweezers, and iodine spread across our bathroom counter. When I questioned his sanity, he looked me right in the eyes and said, “Well, I studied the theory of battlefield medicine in college.”

Right. But that lesson was part of a history class, not a pre-med course!

That was the day I did a little research into why so many men go to such lengths to avoid seeking qualified medical treatment. I mean, really. Is taking a utility knife to your own big toe ever the best solution?

Why do so many men avoid the doctor?

According to a piece by NewsWorks, men have access to plenty of information about health care. There are multitudes of websites (such as askmen.com and WebMD) that share basic health advice for men, including lists of the most vital appointments to schedule.

No, the problem isn’t lack of information. It’s the old-fashioned stereotype that men should be invincible.

In the NewsWorks article, gastroenterologist Dr. Michael Kochman says, “We are the men of the house and many hold that […] it’s a sign of weakness to go to a physician, even when one isn’t feeling well.”

That attitude also explains a phenomenon described by urologist Dr. Ridwan Shabsigh, head of the International Society of Men’s Health. Dr. Shabsigh told NBC News, “If you look at the data by gender, before the age of 18, the utilization of health care is equal by gender. After age 18, there is a dramatic reduction in health-service utilization by males.”

“Now, why is there no gender discrepancy before age 18? Mom. Mom takes both boys and girls equally to the doctor. After age 18, boys disappear.”

So, how serious is this problem?

The NBC report goes on to theorize that men’s brash, “I’m OK” mindset could be genetic; a remnant from ancient times when society required males to put their health at risk while hunting wild animals.

Whether or not you buy into the leftover-DNA explanation, it is a fact that many men reach middle age only to find that the lack of regular check-ups has caught up with them. As the NewsWorks story points out, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol are common problems among older men. These conditions often produce no symptoms until they are dangerously advanced.

Lately, I’ve noticed a funny-but-sincere new billboard on my drive to work. It looks a lot like this (minus the graffiti):

This change in my commute scenery is courtesy of members of the medical community. They’re trying to reach out and encourage men to believe that taking care of their health actually makes them better family providers.

The snarky spray paint addition? Well, you know where that came from.

No matter how reluctant men might be to see a doctor, it seems their funny bones are doing just fine.

– Jennie Saia, Contributing Editor