When you are worried about your health it’s tempting to bury your head in the sand and hope whatever symptoms are concerning you will just go away in time. Even if you know that’s not a sensible move, the thought of going to see the doctor is daunting for several reasons, one of the biggest being that you just might have your worst fears confirmed.
This Fear Of Finding Out (FOFO) is widespread and has serious implications, for both individuals and the NHS. Research commissioned by biopharmaceutical company AbbVie found that 61% of people admitted that they would delay visiting a doctor owing to fear of being diagnosed with a serious illness, and 32% avoided the doc because they don’t want to be pressured into making changes to their lifestyle.
The research also found that 10% of people believed delaying seeing a doctor would have no impact if they were later diagnosed with an illness. This, unfortunately, is just wrong – your chances of surviving something serious are reduced the longer it goes untreated. Late diagnoses also hit the NHS in its pocket, with an extra £150 million spent on treating cancers spotted belatedly.
To help experts understand what makes people avoid seeing the doctor, AbbVie and the Patients Association have created a quiz about FOFO which you can take at crushyourfofo.co.uk. It’ll analyse your answers and allocate you a personal fear gremlin, which you can then crush by taking positive steps to remedy any health problems you might have, such as visiting your pharmacist or GP.
Simon Bullmore, an associate at the Open Data Institute, which is also part of the project, is personally invested in learning more about FOFO, having experienced it for himself.
“One of the reasons I wanted to get involved in the project was that it put a label on something from my own experience,” says Bullmore, 45. “My own FOFO had stopped me from going to the doctor when I should have and it almost killed me.”
“I’m generally in pretty good health. I exercise, I don’t drink too much, and I haven’t smoked since I was at university. Towards the end of 2013 I started to feel very ill. I had very bad night sweats, and I also started to develop a cough. I did go the doctor and they gave me antibiotics. I felt a little better but the illness crept back. That was when I started to get scared about what might be going on, because most of the time you take antibiotics it sorts you out, or your body sorts itself out.
“But I tried to push through for a few weeks, and then I went back to the doctor and got given some different antibiotics, but I really didn’t push it. The health service wouldn’t have known I had something particularly wrong, because I wasn’t sticking my hand up and saying I was really worried about this.
“Then for a further month I was in complete denial about having to go back to the doctor. I was off work by that time and having terrible night sweats. I was losing weight and felt very ill. My wife put her foot down and took me to the doctor. I ended up in hospital on a intravenous drip. They found I had hepatic amoebiasis. It’s effectively the same amoeba that give you dysentery but in a small number of cases it creates a large abscess on your liver, and if that grows and bursts you have like a 5% chance of survival, because the amoeba gets into your bloodstream and into your brain. I was days, possibly a week, away from that happening.
“I was in hospital for almost two weeks and I had to go through some very unpleasant procedures, but once I was being treated with the right spectrum of antibiotics within a day or two I felt better – better than I had for months. When I put myself in the hands of the NHS the experts did a stand-up job of getting me better very quickly. Within a few weeks I was back on my feet and there was no long-term damage.
‘What I realise now is that while I was saying ‘I’m fine, I don’t want to trouble the NHS, I’ll get better, I need to go to work’, actually I was scared that there was something wrong, that maybe I had cancer or something like that. I didn’t want to know.”
Take the FOFO quiz at crushyourfofo.co.uk