The key to a husband's health may be his wife

Men won't go to doctor, so author targets their spouses

Health & Fitness

May 12, 2002|By Beth Cooney | By Beth Cooney,Special to the Sun

Dr. Siegfried J. Kra has some advice that could save husbands' lives. Funny thing is, the advice isn't for husbands -- it's for their spouses.

Get a husband to make an appointment for a physical, Kra says. And then nudge him, ever so sweetly, to keep it.

"Oh, and get him to eat more veggies, cut back on red meat and exercise a little," he adds. "Learn the warning signs of depression, heart disease, stroke and cancer. Know what things should be covered in a thorough physical. And speak up if it doesn't get done."

Statistically, Kra says, "we know that men die younger than women. If you want your husband to stick around, you may have to help him a little. Because we men, we're not so good at it when left to our own devices."

In his fifth book, How to Keep Your Husband Alive (Lehbar-Freeman, $24.95), Kra, a cardiologist and associate professor of medicine at the Yale School of Medicine, offers tips to spouses and life partners for sustaining their mate's longevity and health.

Sounds like a heavy burden, but Kra said recently that it wasn't his intention to imply it is exclusively a woman's place to drag her husband to the doctor.

"It's just that most men, we commit medical malpractice on ourselves," he says. "I've had intelligent successful [male] patients who, until they had a heart attack, hadn't seen a doctor in 25 years."

Kra says that only one in four adult men regularly sees an internist or family doctor for routine physicals. So Kra targeted his latest book to a female audience because, he says, he's pragmatic -- and a stereotype of the lousy male patient. Once, he admits, he got short of breath after a tennis match and stayed that way for three days before he sought medical care.

"I thought I had a cold," he says. Turns out he was seriously ill and needed to be hospitalized. "You see, I suffer from stupid male syndrome, too. Like a lot of men, I hate to admit it, but I was afraid."

In a national study, 24 percent of men said they hadn't seen a doctor in the previous year compared with just 8 percent of women.

The 2000 study by the Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based health research firm, also found that men delay getting care despite warning signs. When asked what they would do if they were in pain or feeling sick, 24 percent said they would wait as long as possible before seeing a doctor.

So a man's first line of medical defense is his wife, Kra suggests.

"They are the ones who know if their husbands are looking pale, tired or suffering from something like impotence," he says, noting that sexual dysfunction can be associated with a host of medical conditions, including cancer.

But what if a husband is one of those meat-and-potato guys who won't eat his veggies, has a few too many beers, maybe even smokes and thinks you only go to the doctor for life-threatening things, like car wrecks and heart attacks?

"That's where a loving wife has to come in," says Kra, who insists a woman doesn't have to be a nag to successfully win her husband's cooperation. "Say something like, 'We have so much to look forward to and you've been so tired lately,' or 'You've been gaining weight and I just think you should get a checkup,' " Kra advises.

Wives also can help nurture their husbands' health by being knowledgeable about good nutrition, encouraging exercise and learning symptoms of diseases such as heart disease and depression.

Beth Cooney is a reporter for the Stamford Advocate, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

How a woman can help keep her man

* Know your partner's family medical history. If heart disease, certain hereditary cancers or other illnesses run in the family, learn the warning signs and tools for prevention. If a husband or partner can't provide a complete family history, ask relatives to fill in the blanks.

* Gently encourage regular physicals or doctor visits, making appointments when necessary. Go along if your husband doesn't mind.

* Make sure your husband's physicals include a discussion of nutrition, exercise, stressors and mental health.

* Ask friends and trusted physicians for recommendations on clinicians with a good bedside manner. Having a doctor who shares your husband's love of baseball, golf or model trains may not be the best credentials, but your spouse may be more apt to take advice from someone he can talk to.

* Get your husband to eat more fruits and vegetables. If he sneers at broccoli, then try blending fruit into yogurt or juice shakes and offer a vegetable juice, such as V-8, as a snack or beverage.

* Give the gift of fitness. Buy your spouse gym membership, a bike or ask him to join you for an easy weekend walk.

* Recognize that impotence can be a symptom of many illnesses, including depression and certain cancers.

Recognize that heartburn, a common problem in men, can be a symptom of heart disease, gallstones or gastrointestinal reflux.

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