When I was asked to write a column about men’s health to help launch Brattleboro Memorial Hospital’s “Beards for BMH” campaign, the first thing that came to mind was how difficult it can be for some men to even talk about their health. It’s not always easy for women either, but it seems like men tend to keep these things inside more often. It doesn’t matter if they’re talking to another man or to a woman. Some men just don’t want to talk about it. Period. So the most important men’s health issue is making them aware of how important it is to see a primary care provider for regular check-ups.
One of the biggest reasons men don’t want to come into the office is they don’t want to be poked and prodded. They may not realize that they have the right to refuse any parts of a physical examination they don’t want. Instead, they don’t come at all and end up missing an opportunity to check on so many things. The routine physical is the only time we can really do preventative counseling and check blood pressure and cholesterol levels, among other indicators of a person’s overall physical and emotional health.
That is changing, however. I have many male patients from all walks of life — farmers, blue collar workers and white collar professionals — who do feel it’s important to get regular check-ups. Generally, if a man has a history of seeing a healthcare provider their whole life then it just becomes routine, even if you’ve never had a relationship with that particular practitioner.
Interestingly, more men are now getting regular check-ups since the advent of drugs that treat erectile dysfunction, like Viagra or Cialis. No one really talked about sexual dysfunction before that because there wasn’t much we could do to treat it. But now family health practitioners kind of have a leg in to run some tests and do some preventative counseling, because erectile dysfunction can be a byproduct of any number of health issues, including circulatory problems, heart disease or diabetes.
The point is that once a man gets comfortable with his medical provider, then no health issue is taboo to talk about. Current guidelines say a man should get checked for prostate cancer every couple of years starting at age 40, for example. But if a patient is hesitant about having a rectal exam or has questions about the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, he can have an open dialogue with his provider about the need and what these tests actually indicate. Likewise, testicular cancer is a disease that typically affects men between the ages of 15 and 45 years old. It’s the only type of cancer where your risk actually goes down as you age. A young man may not know how to do a self-exam but his provider has the opportunity to educate him about it during a routine visit.
The Beards for BMH campaign is geared toward getting men to talk to other people about these very issues. Men in the community shaved their faces clean on November 1 and will grow a beard over the course of the month. Check the BMH Facebook page for weekly photo updates from the participants, or considering sponsoring them. And if someone you know happens to start growing a beard (or all of a sudden just shaved their beard off), ask him why. It will give him a chance to share facts and information about men’s health issues, and the opportunity to talk about it could be the first step someone else needs to take action and improve their own health.
Richard Fletcher, APRN, FNP is a family nurse practitioner at Putney Family Healthcare, a department of Brattleboro Memorial Hospital. He can be reached at 802-387-5581.