Talking about private health issues is part of going to the doctor. Some health concerns, however, feel a lot more personal than others. But whether it’s a sexual problem, hidden rash or body odor, or a debilitating emotional issue, don’t let embarrassment keep you from seeking relief.
Here, in no particular order, are 10 sensitive health problems you can discuss with a health care provider, who won’t be shocked – just ready to help.
10 – Excessive Sweating
It’s normal to sweat when you’re standing in the hot sun or waiting to give a public speech. But if you sweat a lot when you’re not supposed to, it could be a sign of a condition called hyperhidrosis.
“If you find yourself changing your clothes frequently, or you’re taking showers more than a couple times a day, you find your hands are wet when you’re not nervous or exercising, or you find you can’t hold objects,” it’s time to let your doctor know, says David Pariser, a dermatologist in Virginia Beach and Norfolk, Virginia, and founder of the International Hyperhidrosis Society.
It’s important to speak up, Pariser says, because there’s treatment available – and so you know you aren’t alone. Even if you don’t have hyperhidrosis, heavy sweating can be a symptom of certain medical disorders or medication side effects, and it should be evaluated.
9 – Genital rash
Itchy rashes are bad enough. Rashes that occur around the penis, vagina, or buttocks can seriously ratchet up your discomfort. Whether it’s a fungal infection like jock itch, an insect infestation such as scabies or pubic lice, or a condition like psoriasis that can occur anywhere on the body, the sooner you consult a doctor, the sooner you can stop scratching.
8 – Addiction
Unless you actually show up intoxicated to a medical appointment, it is possible to hide an addiction to drugs or alcohol from your doctor. In fact, people with addictions often become quite adept at concealing the condition from others — especially from doctors who could potentially be a source of habit-forming prescription medication.
However, talking to your doctor about an addiction may be the best thing you ever do for yourself. For starters, your doctor won’t judge you. Instead, he or she can offer many options for confidential treatment, including referring you to an addiction counselor or inpatient facility. Also, with a more complete picture of your health, your doctor can better examine you to make sure substance abuse hasn’t caused any damage to your body — and help you with any physical symptoms of withdrawal.
7 – Hemorrhoids
If you find it increasingly difficult to sit without pain in your rear end, you might have hemorrhoids, a condition caused by swollen veins in the anus. Sometimes the condition exists just inside the anus and the veins aren’t visible, while other times the swollen veins are external.
The causes of this vein-swelling could include pregnancy, straining during bowel movements or too much sitting. However, the condition could also be a sign of a bigger problem, such as liver cirrhosis or anal infection. Discovering such a cause sooner rather than later would certainly be worth the mild embarrassment of bringing up this derriere pain with your doctor.
However, even if your diagnosis just amounts to “garden-variety” hemorrhoids, getting a doctor’s advice on how best to treat the condition will also be worth the trouble. Hemorrhoids can cause blood in the feces, painful bowel movements and itching, not to mention an unpleasant experience every time you sit down to work, drive or relax.
Not seeking treatment would likely worsen the situation, perhaps even necessitating otherwise-avoidable surgery. If you seek a doctor’s advice early on, though, chances are you may only need to use over-the-counter topical creams with corticosteroid or lidocaine, and other noninvasive remedies, such as heat treatment, aka infrared coagulation.
6 – Binge Eating and Purging
People with bulimia use a variety of methods in an unhealthy attempt to get rid of the extra calories after food binges. Purging can take the form of abusing laxatives, enemas or diuretics, or it can involve self-induced vomiting.
Patients don’t like to talk about bulimia, Berg says, but dentists can see its effects on the back side of the teeth, as stomach acid erodes the tooth enamel, which becomes very thin and translucent. “We are aware of that, and we talk to patients about it if we see signs,” she says.
Bulimia is potentially life threatening and if you have symptoms, it’s important to talk to your primary care doctor or a mental health professional as soon as possible.
5 – Blood in Stool or Urine
Few people want to openly discuss their bodily waste products, even if — or sometimes, especially if — they have a compelling reason to do so. Such is the case with seeing blood in your urine or feces.
Rectal bleeding, aka hematochezia, may result in fecal blood that’s bright red or a darker shade of red. It may even be black and tarry looking. Seeing fecal blood that’s not bright red in color may convince you it’s something other than blood, or just lead you to “keep an eye on things” or “wait it out” rather than see a doctor. However, the exact hue of the blood in your feces can reveal something about the source of the problem.
If fecal blood is barely visible, it may be the result of anemia, hemorrhoids or anal fissure, which is tearing of the rectal tissue. However, it could also be a sign of rectal or colon cancer, so you should get it checked out as soon as possible.
Some people will experience blood in the urine, aka hematuria, at some point. This condition can be caused by a number of things, from a urinary tract infection or enlargement of the prostate, to kidney stones or even cancer of the kidney, prostate or bladder. Whether or not your case of hematuria is a sign of a bigger problem is something your doctor can help you determine.
4 – Lack of Libido
It’s often taken for granted that sex is something people are supposed to enjoy — an idea that’s well-supported in contemporary society by a wealth of hypersexual advertising and other media. So a decreased interest in sex can be difficult to bring up with anyone, even your doctor.
And a lack of interest in sex doesn’t even necessarily have to do with erectile dysfunction or vaginal dryness, because those problems can exist along with a so-called “normal” sex drive. Although stress about these issues can certainly take their toll on your libido, it’s possible to experience diminished sexual desire without any related physical conditions.
If your doctor can’t find a medical reason for your lack of interest in sex, you should bring the matter up with a trained counselor or therapist, since low libido can have psychological causes. It may be stress-related or due to problems in a relationship. A prior traumatic experience with sex or lingering sexual guilt due to past infidelity also may be to blame.
3 – Depression
So you’ve been feeling a little down; it’ll pass, you think. Besides, why bother your doctor with it? “Some women are embarrassed,” says Ellen L. Poleshuck, Ph.D., a family therapist at the University of Rochester (N.Y.) Medical Center.
Emotions can affect your physical health, and depressed people often feel fatigued, lose their appetite or have stomach aches. If your doctor doesn’t know you’re depressed, you may have to undergo unnecessary tests or medications.
2 – Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD)
People frequently come to the ER to get checked out for sexually transmitted diseases, Patrizzi says. If a partner informs you that you’ve been exposed to an STD but you aren’t showing any signs, you might be tempted to skip the health care visit and hope for the best. But it’s important to get tested, Patrizzi says, both to get treatment if needed and avoid spreading the infection to others.
Some STDs, like gonorrhea, cause obvious symptoms, but other infections are silent. While genital herpes is more apparent during an outbreak, you can also get it from an infected partner who’s not showing any signs. Chlamydia, another common STD, often occurs without symptoms.
1 – Object stuck in a bodily orifice
Whether the result of curiosity, mishap or misadventure, unusual objects sometimes do get lodged in bodily orifices, and taking this problem out of the confines of your home — much less talking to someone about it — probably ranks among the most embarrassing things you can think of but hospital emergency rooms routinely deal with sex toys or household objects that become embedded in the body.
If this happens to you, don’t be shy – head to the ER. The staff can medicate you for pain, and they’ll order an X-ray or CT scan to find out just how far the object has gone. They may be able to remove the item then and there, while surgery might be required in other cases.
References for 10 Embarrassing Problems You Don’t Want to Tell Your Doctor, But Should: