‘Superhero Syndrome’ Has Real-Life Consequences

by Dr. Hojat Askari, Founder and Medical Director, Thumb Butte Medical Center

Statistics and anecdotal evidence confirm that the old stereotype about men avoiding medical care at almost all costs is true — they pay far fewer visits to the doctor for checkups or preventive health screenings. Stories abound of them having to be talked into going to an emergency room while in the middle of an apparent heart attack.

The reasons for this widespread reluctance — a 2019 Cleveland Clinic study reported 72% of men would choose cleaning toilets over a physician visit — are complex. They can include embarrassment over symptoms and fear of a serious diagnosis. But “superhero syndrome,” or a tendency to see themselves as indestructible and/or as a provider and protector who can’t have any needs of his own, is an all-too-frequent contributing factor.

Our society and entertainment is soaked in superhero stories and imagery, and getting even more so as Hollywood sends most of its other movies straight to streaming while audiences remain tentative about going back to theaters.

The biggest superhero of them all died in the “All-Star Superman” comic books and movie, but of course he came back. Men in particular absorb those images and are reluctant to acknowledge any vulnerabilities.

Heroes Take Care of Themselves

Yet, men develop chronic and serious illnesses earlier than women do, on average, and their lives tend to be shorter for reasons related to both lifestyle and biology. They don’t have an equivalent to women’s annual gynecological exams throughout their 20s, 30s and 40s but should be seeing a health care provider at least once every one or two years to have their blood pressure checked and be screened for other diseases depending on their risk level.

By the time men turn 50 they should be screened for colon cancer through a colonoscopy and discuss the best course of action for prostate screening through prostate specific antibody (PSA) blood tests or physical examination.

These aren’t pleasant experiences and neither is the nervousness about any other concerns that could come to light. That’s why men who do go through these regularly are real-life heroes for their families, their loved ones and themselves.