Dr Alex George
Doctor and TV personality
From my experience as a doctor, there is an undeniable stigma surrounding certain health issues when it comes to the male population. Even the mere mention of a prostate examination sends most men into a silent panic, and for many, it is that fear that prevents them coming to see us doctors in the first place.
I have had conversations with countless men who have admitted they would rather risk having an undiagnosed serious illness than go to see the doctor, a thought I find quite terrifying. This stigma becomes amplified when it comes to prostate concerns.
Let’s be frank; men are embarrassed when it comes to anything to do with the private parts, but to us doctors, this is baffling. A prostate examination is quick and painless and for medical professionals this is a procedure we will do day in day out. I hate to trivialise the issue, but a prostate exam really isn’t a big deal.
Embarrassment is stopping men seeking help
So why the stigma? Personally, I believe that television, films and social media have all contributed to this fear, as well as myths passed down from the generations. In other countries, such as France, for example, there is no such stigma. Much of the medications we take orally, they will use in rectal form. They are very relaxed about the issue, and so they should be.
I have seen men in the A&E department who have presented with urinary retention, i.e. being unable to pass urine – sometimes for many hours, or even a day or so in some instances. Often, it turns out they have had symptoms for several months and only sought medical attention when it got to an extreme point.
Time and time again I hear the phrase, “I didn’t want to trouble the doctor,” but often, on further questioning, it comes out that they were embarrassed to talk about sensitive subjects for fear of judgement.
Not only is this really sad but also potentially very dangerous.
Earlier diagnosis means more effective treatment
I have personally seen the consequences of patients leaving it late to visit the doctor, and that delay has caused damage to the kidneys as a result of urinary retention. This is even more frustrating when it turns out that the underlying diagnosis – such as a benign prostate enlargement – is the cause, which is very much a treatable condition.
As a general rule, if we are able to pick up problems early, often, we are able to diagnose and provide treatment much more effectively than if we find problems later down the line.
It is so important that we tackle these stigmas head on, so that men feel more open and able to come forward and ask for help, rather than suffer in silence.