Old people with docA new evidence review has highlighted the psychological reasons which are causing British adults to delay or avoid seeking medical attention. The new report, titled ‘The Fear of Finding Out: identifying psychological barriers to symptom presentation and diagnosis in the UK’, has found that despite the abundance of health information now available, one of the main barriers preventing adults from making healthier lifestyle choices is a ‘Fear of Finding Out’.

This makes up nearly a third of all conscious reasons why individuals may be delaying or avoiding visiting their doctor or seeking medical advice when they may be concerned, or not taking the relevant steps to improve their health. The ‘Fear of Finding Out’ is more likely to affect those who have an unhealthy lifestyle and are either: smokers, heavy drinkers, have an unhealthy diet and/or are obese.

The report,published by AbbVie, in partnership with think  tank 2020health, highlights the potential scale of this as a barrier to making healthy lifestyle changes. 83% of middle aged adults (aged 40 to 60), either drink too much, weigh too much or don’t exercise enough. 40% (192,470 deaths) of all the deaths in England are related to people’s behaviour. Managing this ill health caused by lifestyle is costing the NHS more than £11 billion each year. 60% of adults in the UK have a negative or fatalistic attitude towards their health and the report reveals that the ‘Fear of Finding Out’ can be especially true for those would struggle to cope with the knowledge of a life-threatening illness. It can also apply to those who do not want to be ‘pressured into making lifestyle changes’.

The report also reveals differences of attitudes between genders as men were more generally seen to endure symptoms for longer before seeking medical help, and report higher levels of embarrassment during or in relation to medical appointments, than women.

The ‘Fear of Finding Out’ is made up of the following fears:


  • Fears of the environment – 45% of women and 37% of men found the difficulty making an appointment a key barrier, according to a UK cancer study
  • Fears of investigative processes – 33% of adults who admitted that they had avoided a doctor visit that they deemed necessary cited ‘discomfort with a body examination’ as the primary reason 
  • Fears of outcomes and implications – one of the most widely endorsed barriers to consultation in regards to cancer was found to be the ‘worry about what the doctor might find’, which was true for 34% of men and 40% of women. Furthermore, one literature review cited in the report found that between 12 and 55% of people who undergo testing for HIV fail to return to learn whether they are infected.


Some of the psychological fears faced by those who may delay seeking medical advice are highlighted in the report, and include:


  • The fear of appearing weak
  • The fear of shame that may accompany a diagnosis
  • The fear of partner abandonment
  • The fear of loss of sexuality post treatment
  • The fear of the results getting into the wrong hands.


Julia Manning, Chief Executive and Founder of 2020Health said: “This report highlights some very genuine worries and fears that get in the way of people receiving timely health diagnoses and advice, which require a sympathetic response. It is of particular interest that a lack of motivation and valuing health less are emphasised as being delaying factors for everyone, not just those with poor health literacy. We have made excellent progress with some conditions, but this paper shows there is still significant work to be done to understand and solve the issues generally that prevent some people of working age accessing healthcare.”

Matt Regan, UK General Manager, AbbVie said: “The findings from the literature based review highlight how preventative health should be a priority for all of us. With long term funding constraints on our health system, it is part of our duty as an industry to support the NHS in remaining sustainable for as long as possible by being responsible for the nation’s health in a way that is in addition to the medicines we make. We’re proud to be part of this unique collaboration through Live:Lab TM, and will be listening to real people to provide solutions that make a remarkable impact on lives.”