Fight the fear

Lisa Salmon says it’s bet­ter to get checked out than put it off

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - News -

HAVE you got a nig­gling health prob­lem you’ve not seen a doc­tor about be­cause you’re fright­ened of what you might be told? Of course, your ail­ment might just dis­ap­pear. Or it could be se­ri­ous, and by ig­nor­ing it you’re po­ten­tially mak­ing it a lot worse — or even life-threat­en­ing.

Fear of bad news: It’s the fear of find­ing out that puts many peo­ple off seek­ing med­i­cal at­ten­tion for health prob­lems, and re­search shows it’s this fear that stops a third of adults from tak­ing the nec­es­sary steps to im­prove their health.

The mid­dle-aged are most likely to avoid med­i­cal ap­point­ments, ac­cord­ing to a re­view by the bio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany Ab­bVie’s Live:Lab project.

Men more fright­ened: The Live:Lab re­view found men are more likely to be af­fected by the fear of find­ing out, and tend to en­dure symp­toms for longer than women be­fore seek­ing med­i­cal at­ten­tion. Men are more likely to be em­bar­rassed about seek­ing help, and fear it could make them ap­pear less mas­cu­line, re­silient or strong.

Men might not want to be thought of as the “wor­ried well”, says psy­chol­o­gist Dr David Pendleton, who’s writ­ten books on doc­tor-pa­tient com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

How­ever, he stresses such an at­ti­tude isn’t gen­der-spe­cific; there are women with the same phi­los­o­phy.

Why avoid med­i­cal help? The pri­mary fac­tors be­hind avoid­ing the doc­tor are fear and de­nial.

“The prob­lem with any med­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tion is that it al­ways raises the doubt there could be some­thing se­ri­ous go­ing on. That would re­ally frighten you, so you min­imise ev­ery­thing,” says Pendleton.

“We think of de­nial as be­ing hugely ir­ra­tional, but if you convince your­self what’s hap­pen­ing to you isn’t se­ri­ous, then for a while it isn’t, and you in­stantly feel bet­ter.”

Is it likely to be se­ri­ous? There’s an in­verse re­la­tion­ship in peo­ple’s minds be­tween like­li­hood and se­ri­ous­ness — they think the things likely to hap­pen to them aren’t se­ri­ous, and vice-versa.

So, they think they’re likely to get a cold but it’s not likely to be se­ri­ous, and they think they’re not likely to get a dis­ease like cancer, which is se­ri­ous.

Talk it over: Re­search shows mar­ried peo­ple are more likely to go to the doc­tor, pos­si­bly be­cause their spouse gives them the push they need.

Be­fore peo­ple visit a doc­tor, they usu­ally talk to some­one else about what’s wrong, and the per­son they speak to — even though they’re not of­ten med­i­cally qual­i­fied — might ei­ther say it sounds like noth­ing or that it ought to be checked out.

This serves as a kind of sec­ond opin­ion, al­most giv­ing the wor­ried well per­mis­sion to go to the doc­tor. Or not. In­ter­net searches can in­crease fear: Many peo­ple try to self-di­ag­nose by search­ing their symp­toms on the in­ter­net, and while this can in­crease fear, the op­po­site can also be true.

You can also prac­tice de­nial through the in­ter­net, and se­lec­tively find re­as­sur­ing mes­sages about sim­i­lar symp­toms.

“If you’re a pes­simist you can find things to worry about, and if you’re an op­ti­mist you can find rea­sons to show your prob­lem is noth­ing at all,” says Pendleton.

“It’s just another way of fool­ing your­self. It’s much bet­ter to see a real doc­tor.”

HEAD ACHE: Many peo­ple avoid seek­ing med­i­cal help through de­nial or by check­ing out their symp­toms on the in­ter­net.

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