x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Why are men so shy when it comes to their health?

Men's health has been under the spotlight this month, but don't expect many to speak out about it, or seek medical help. Many males still aren't getting the message.

For many men around the world, November has been "Movember", where for 30 days usually clean-shaven gentlemen attempt to cultivate a moustache in return for sponsorship money in support of the Movember campaign. Its backers now claim to have more than one million participants annually and in 2009 it raised $41 million (Dh152 million) for prostate cancer charities. "The money goes towards researching ways of combating a disease that kills one man every hour," explains Dr Elizabeth Rapley, a research scientist at the UK Institute for Cancer Research.

Other male-focused health initiatives include Blue September in Australia and Britain, part of an ongoing campaign by the Everyman male cancer charity, is designed to remind men to self-check for signs of testicular cancer.

Dr Rapley insists that these campaigns work, citing the increased number of men reporting with early symptoms of testicular cancer as proof that raising awareness helps save lives.

But while such campaigns and events do attract much-needed publicity to serious issues, some doctors argue that they may also distract the focus of men's health problems away from more pressing ones.

"These campaigns can raise anxiety, not awareness," argues Dr Keith Hopcroft, the co-author of A Blokes DIY Guide To Health. "They skew perspective. Testicular cancer, for example, gets so much publicity that people assume it's far more common than it actually is. In terms of number of cases seen by the average doctor, the true answer is two or three, per career."

According to Cancer Research statistics prostate, lung and then bowel cancer are the most common forms of the disease in men. Testicular cancer doesn't appear in the top 10. "They're a distraction from the main message, too," adds Dr Hopcroft. "That the real problem is not men discovering they've got a lump - it's that they fail to act on it. The average time between discovering a problem and making an appointment about it is around six months."

The issue of why men are so reluctant to confront general health issues is one that's especially prominent in the UAE. According to a charity highlighting male health issues, the UAE Men's Health Aliance (MHA), women in the Emirates are 33 per cent more likely to visit a doctor than men.

Dr Nabil Mitry, a Dubai-based urology specialist, announced at the MHA's launch that men in the UAE are being negligent about their health, are less likely to seek quick medical help and are putting themselves at risk of developing complications. Among the more pressing ailments Dr Mitry has highlighted are heart disease, diabetes and more "taboo" issues such as erectile dysfunction and depression.

The failure of men to confront everyday health issues and discuss them with a doctor isn't unique to the UAE. According to Dr Rapley, women are generally more in tune with their bodies than men and when females do go through treatment for illness they're more likely to talk about it. "That willingness to be open about health matters encourages other women to do the same," she says. "From a campaign point of view that means that it's often easier to get women who've recovered from, say, cancer to act as spokespeople and to encourage others to investigate symptoms."

Men on the other hand don't engage in the health system as easily as women do. "Through things such as birth control and screenings, women are more acclimatised to dealing with doctors and nurses at regular intervals," explains Dr Rapley. The gender divide, when it comes to accessing health care, comes at fatal cost for men. "The big picture is that deaths from specific men's health issues are not falling,' Dr Mitry says.

According to the latest UN study, men in the UAE can expect a shorter lifespan compared with women.

Experts at the World Health Organisation also agree that by bottling up feelings and concerns, men allow problems to spiral out of control.

Psychological problems can not only have a dramatic effect on your work and your home life, but a man's resistance to tackling them for "macho" reasons such as fear of appearing weak can lead to health issues becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Embarrassment, stigmas and social pressures can make it difficult for men to confront their fears, but health professionals do suggest a number of moves that could help men to help themselves, including:

Don't put it off. The sooner you have symptoms identified by a health professional, the sooner they can either be treated or you can be reassured that all's OK. Testicular cancer has a 99 per cent cure rate if caught early enough. Don't ignore ongoing health issues, especially those that cause physical symptoms such as a shortness of breath, recurrent pain or traces of blood. Or psychological ones including sleeplessness and loss of libido.

Call ahead. If you're anxious about visiting the doctor, try contacting the medical centre or clinic by phone at first and ask to speak to a nurse or health specialist. They won't be able to diagnose you over the phone but by making the initial contact and airing your concerns anonymously you may find it easier to go face to face with a doctor.

Be professional. Treat an appointment or visit to a doctor like a business meeting. Book it, put it in your diary, take notes when you're there and if the outcome is positive then reward yourself for a job well done.

Know your numbers. By monitoring your health you can avoid having to go to your doctor with a serious health issue. By having a regular check of your cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels with a medic, or talking to a pharmacist about home-test kits, you'll get early warning signals that can stop you falling victim to one of the top man-killers, such as heart disease, in later life.