Visiting the doctor can be embarrassing, even under the best of circumstances. After all the poking and prodding that goes on and the probing questions you have to answer, there's not much the doctor doesn't know about you -- except, of course, for that one thing you're too mortified to tell him.
Maybe it's an unsightly rash on your rear end, or a nagging itch in spot that's just not socially acceptable to scratch. Or perhaps it's something more internal, like a deep-seated, psychological urge to do something you'd be ashamed of. Embarrassing medical problems come in many varieties, and some can be life-threatening if left untreated. So while it may seem like a complete surrender of your privacy, giving up the goods when it comes to disclosing embarrassing issues -- like the 10 on this list -- to your doctor is often the best thing you can do for your health.
This problem starts as a minor itch near the groin. Soon, it becomes a major itch that drives you up the wall. Closer inspection of the affected area reveals red, oozing and maybe even crusty skin. While this may be a fine time to consult a doctor (as you should for any problem down there), it's not an easy thing to mention, considering how sensitive many people are about their private parts.
Officially known as tinea cruris, jock itch is a common condition caused by fungal growth, friction, heat and humidity. Usually, it starts out in the crease where your legs join your torso. Left unchecked, it can spread to your thighs, buttocks and genitals. In severe cases, untreated jock itch can cause ulcers, open sores, abscesses and even skin infection.
Though this problem usually affects men, women can get jock itch as well, and non-sporty slackers of either gender can get it despite the "jock" tag. It occurs when the skin is moist and warm (for example, when you're sweating after a brisk run), creating an ideal environment for the fungi, which are always present on your skin, to thrive. But it can also spread from person to person through towel- and clothes-sharing.
Call up your doc for a quick consult as soon as you start noticing symptoms, and usually he or she can help you treat jock itch through the use of antifungal sprays and lotions, or with prescribed antifungal pills.
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.
As much as you may dread broaching the topic, your doctor can help you determine if there's a medical (or lifestyle-related) reason behind your decreased interest in sex. For example, some common causes include:
- Alcohol or drug use
- Prescription drugs use
- Sleep apnea
- A hormone imbalance caused by low testosterone or menopause
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.
If nobody seems to want to hear about much of anything from you face-to-face, you may have a common problem that you should bring up with your dentist: bad breath.
Even worse than discovering your own bad breath is having someone else bring it up to you (as they slowly back away). But that's often what's needed to even know there's a problem in the first place. Once it's brought to your attention, however, trying to ignore the issue won't prevent others from noticing your stinky breath.
Bad breath is often caused by smelly foods you eat, such as onions or garlic, but in those cases, the problem passes once your body has fully broken down the problem-causing item. If your embarrassing breath isn't food-related, finding out what is causing it could pay dividends to your dental -- and overall -- health. For example, bad breath can be a warning sign of a worsening cavity or gum disease. The sooner these issues are addressed, the higher your odds will be of saving teeth or preventing further damage to your gums.
While poor dental health may be the culprit, bad breath can also be a result of non-mouth-related health conditions such as diabetes, problems with your liver or kidneys, and respiratory tract issues. You'll want to address breath issues with your dentist first, then consult your doctor if you still don't have answers.
For some, the act of self-harming -- often through cutting or burning -- serves as a means of coping with emotional distress or trauma, even if the source of the trauma happened long ago. Those with major depression or eating disorders sometimes do this as well.
Even if the underlying issue has been long-resolved, bringing up the subject of self-inflicted scars -- and how best to heal them -- can be extraordinarily difficult, since you'll likely bring attention to how you got them. The scarring itself is simply a biological function of your skin repairing damage by forming new collagen growth. While scars begin forming almost immediately after a person is wounded, they can also take a year or two to reach their final state [source: Alford]. Early on, scars are typically dark and raised, but over time they will probably lighten in color and flatten out.
If you're willing to bring up the subject with your doctor, he or she can help you sort through various options for diminishing the severity of scars. Injections of a steroid called triamcinolone, for example, help the skin absorb the collagen and limit how much collagen is ultimately produced during the long healing process. For older scars, treatments with aloe vera may help. Silicone sheets applied over scars -- a technique often used following mastectomies or breast reconstruction surgeries -- also can help in healing. Dermabrasion -- removing the topmost layers of the skin in order to give it a smoother appearance -- may also be an option.
It's important to get professional medical advice about which treatment is best for you, rather than trying to self-treat. For instance, covering your scars with vitamin E may prevent rather than promote healing, contrary to popular belief [source: Lickstein]. And if self-harming is an ongoing problem for you, a doctor can also direct you toward counseling and other treatment options, to help prevent further scarring of either the emotional or physical variety.
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.
If alcoholism is advanced enough, for example, you might actually need medical supervision to detox, or the process could be fatal. Delirium tremens, a serious reaction to alcohol withdrawal that affects your nervous system, can cause heart attacks and strokes [source: Dugdale].
Your doctor also can prescribe medications to help battle addiction, such as Naltrexone or Acamprosate, which can help curb cravings for alcohol. Disulfiram will make you physically unable to drink alcohol without becoming very sick. Medications such as clonidine and methadone can also be prescribed to aid in withdrawal from narcotics [source: Zwanger].
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.
The closer a medical problem is to the anus, the redder the blood in feces will be. If the problem is further up the GI tract or colon, the fecal blood will be darker because bacteria have more time to break it down.
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.
About 1 in 10 people will experience blood in the urine, aka hematuria, at some point [source: Balentine]. 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.
Discussing just about anything that falls under the umbrella of "sex" can feel taboo, and -- as mentioned earlier -- any problems you're having in that department may seem downright shameful. But when it comes to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), the sooner you talk to your doctor, the better. Talking to your doctor ASAP means treatment can begin immediately, possibly preventing worsening health due to an STD. For example, an STD such as syphilis can cause serious damage to your body if left unchecked, including damage to the internal organs -- even the brain.
With HIV, a disease that -- to some -- seems to come with an automatic death sentence, there are advantages to seeking medical attention promptly. Treatments for HIV are continually advancing, meaning that the long-term outlook for those who are HIV-positive is much better than it was in past decades.
An added bonus of seeking treatment: If you have reason to believe you've contracted an STD, your doctor will be able to test for other STDs that might have otherwise gone undetected. You'll also reduce the risk of transmission to others through treatment and education. You may even save yourself a lot of stress and grief if your diagnosis of yourself turns out to be wrong.
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. After all, exposing the problem means you have to explain how said object got somewhere it wasn't supposed to be in the first place.
However, denying yourself treatment -- or hurting yourself by trying to extract the object yourself -- is probably the last thing you want to do.
Imagine, for example, that some tissue paper gets "lost" up your nose. Left to its own devices, that tissue can cause infection and foul odor, or become further lodged. It can also work its way back to your throat, creating a dangerous breathing obstruction.
Objects stuck your ear are also bad news. They can cause bleeding, discharge and inflammation. What's more, attempts to dislodge something crammed into your ear can potentially damage your hearing. A doctor, however, can use gentle suction, special instruments or even magnets to safely remedy these situations.
And though they're probably the most embarrassing issues to address, objects stuck in your rectum or vagina also need immediate medical attention. Otherwise, they can cause serious tissue damage, infection, internal bleeding and even death.
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.
Yeast infections are caused by fungi, specifically Candida albicans. While yeast is normally present in the vagina, under certain conditions it can multiply and cause vaginitis, or inflammation of the vagina, which 3 out of every 4 women will experience at some point in their lives [source: Stoppler].
Much like jock itch, yeast infections can be embarrassing to discuss, simply because they involve an unpleasant issue around the private parts, and perhaps suggest that a person was doing something untoward that caused the problem. But yeast infections aren't caused by something you did -- they often just happen on their own due to hormonal fluctuations, stress or illness, and so having one is nothing to be ashamed of. A yeast infection also can be the result of taking antibiotics, which alter the levels of bacteria that normally keep yeast in check. Rarely are these infections the result of sexual intercourse, and your doctor won't presume otherwise.
Vaginal yeast infections can cause pain during urination or sex, and can produce a white odorless vaginal discharge. They often cause itching, redness and soreness. However, these can also be symptoms of other conditions, such as STDs, so it's important to get a medical examination to correctly identify the problem.
Your doctor will likely do a pelvic exam, and take swab for testing to verify you have a yeast infection. Treatment is the easy part -- you can usually clear up yeast infections with antifungal creams or tablets.
And remember, once you've addressed any of the 10 problems on this list in a medical setting, there's nothing wrong with finding a brand new doctor -- or even changing your name -- as long as you've protected your health in the long run.
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- Zwanger, Mark, M.D., MBA. "Narcotic Abuse." (Feb. 5, 2012) http://www.emedicinehealth.com/narcotic_abuse/article_em.htm