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TODAY contributor
updated 3/27/2008 9:11:06 AM ET 2008-03-27T13:11:06

So your man refuses to visit the doctor? It’s a common problem.

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I once knew a woman with a mass on her breast. She was so terrified the mass would be cancer that she refused to see an oncologist until it was too late for effective treatment. She died.

Even though logic says there is every reason to go to the doctor, fear and anxiety can overwhelm logic.

Typically, men are more likely to avoid the doctor (the dentist, too) than women. Why is this?

Partially, it's because they are less comfortable than women when it comes to acknowledging fear and weakness. It doesn’t feel macho to express worry. While women have been going annually to a doctor (the gynecologist) for checkups and therefore may be forced to get comfortable with it, men often get away with not seeing a doctor until they're well into their 40s.

Additionally, women are also more often forced to deal with bodily issues and discomfort due to menstruation than men. Again, this leads to greater awareness of bodily sensations and coping with body discomforts.

Another factor is that doctors’ offices tend not to be very man-friendly. There is often feminine decor and a female staff. This all accentuates the feeling that a man is putting himself in a foreign place. It can feel emasculating to go to the doctor. Many offices start with questionnaires that call for a man to answer very personal questions — often to a woman staff member. Outing erectile dysfunction to a female nurse could be enough to keep a man away altogether!

His reluctance may be intensified if there’s a family history of some traumatic disease. If a relative had cancer, diabetes or heart disease, this can make him want to avoid hearing such news about himself.

As you know, preventive health care is called that for a reason. A doctor can discover diseases in a treatable stage and prevent things from getting worse. (One example is cardiac disease.) Often, if someone waits until he is in excruciating pain or an advanced stage of disease, it is too late.

So how can you overcome your man’s reluctance? Here are some ideas:

  • Figure out what the obstacle is. Let him know you understand how worrisome it is to hear bad news, and give him a chance to discuss why he is so obstinate and perhaps frightened.
  • Lead the way. Make it easy for him by locating the doctor. (I suggest you choose a male doctor.) Make the appointment at a convenient time. Go with him. Keep him company if he wants. After the appointment, do something fun, like go to dinner or a movie.
  • Be prepared. Write down all your questions ahead of time, along with symptoms and family history of disease.
  • Avoid nagging. Be loving, encouraging and analytical. Remind your man that he is leaving you in a position of worry about his health, and potentially harming you as well as him. Without your health, you have nothing.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie.” She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which helps parents deal with preschoolers’ questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.

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