Man at primary care appointment

Primary Care | 9 months ago

Women Outlive Men by Five Years, in Part Because Men Delay Primary Care Visits

Years went by before Jason Smith saw a primary care doctor and his problems could have worsened. An Atrium Health primary care doctor says when well-child visits end at the age of 18, men tend to put off going to the doctor until their list of health issues gets lengthy.

Jason Smith thought he was in great physical shape, so he figured he didn’t need to see a doctor - until symptoms began and nagged him. He tried putting it off, but he finally got tired of not knowing why he was feeling unwell. 

“I was just under the weather,” Jason says. “I was 48 years old and wasn’t going to the doctor on a regular basis. It had been years. My blood pressure was up and I was told to keep an eye on it and come back in three months, but it was still high. It was caught during that initial visit.”

Jason was diagnosed with hypertension and placed on a low dose medication. Since then, he has tried to make his health a priority.

“I’m probably not as good as I should be, but I’m better than I was about going to the doctor,” Jason admits. “I’m 53 now. It’s about getting older and staying healthy.”

Dr. Matthew CiRullo at Atrium Health Primary Care Lemmond Farm Family Medicine says too many male health problems remain undetected or untreated. Since it can be seen as challenging to traditional notions of masculinity, some men avoid going to the doctor for as long as possible.  

“New male patients are almost proud,” CiRullo says. “They will say, ‘I haven’t seen a doctor for 12 to 15 years.’ And like clockwork, the next thing I hear is, ‘I have a bunch of things I want to talk about.’ They present with a list of small concerns stockpiled in one visit.”

Most common diagnoses

CiRullo says high blood pressure and cholesterol are the most common findings with male patients he sees, as well as mental health issues.

“Mental health is not seen as a men’s problem. I don’t care for the term, ‘man-up.’ It tells them to just ignore their mental health,” CirRullo says. “I have a depression screening of just two questions, and depending on their answers, I may follow-up with another questionnaire and then schedule another visit where we can just talk. During that visit we can discuss options for treatment, like seeing a counselor, starting medications or a psychiatry referral.”

Preventative health

Some men have the misconception that if they seem healthy, they don’t need to visit a doctor. Taking charge of your overall health can help lower your risk of developing many conditions down the line.

Men’s screenings include:

  • Diabetes
  • Cholesterol
  • Hepatitis C
  • Colon cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Blood pressure
  • Mental health

CiRullo says generally, men show up for an appointment because a partner or family member strongly encourages them, they are experiencing erectile dysfunction or concerns for sexually transmitted diseases.

“A couple of other reasons are back pain, fatigue or they think their illness or health complaint is related to low testosterone,” CiRullo adds. “So, they ask to be tested, but low testosterone typically isn’t the case.”

Getting men to come back

CiRullo says getting his male patients scheduled for follow-up appointments is a priority, so he gets them on the calendar before they leave his practice.

“It’s more of a commitment,” CiRullo says. “It encourages them to come back. Still a good portion fail to follow-up. Ignorance is bliss. They have the mindset that we ‘might find something wrong,’ when it should be ‘we’re trying to catch it early,’ so they just don’t come in.” 

However, Jason is one of CiRullo’s patients who comes back regularly. 

“I’m keeping up with what I need to,” Jason says. “I have no major issues. The high blood pressure is hereditary on my mom’s side. As much as I don’t want to go to the doctor, it’s not my favorite thing, but I know I need to go.”

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