How to Tell Your Doctor About Your Embarrassing Problems

Expert tips on how to talk to your doctor about embarrassing health problems.


embarrassing-symptoms
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Go ahead, try to make our medical editor Dr. Raj blush. Not only is she Healths go-to doc for embarrassing questions, but shes heard everything imaginable in her four years at New York University Medical Center. And so has your own physician, she says: “Trust me, you cant shock your doc. You may think your health confession is unique or strange, but your doctors heard it—and worse—a million times.”

Thats one reason embarrass­ment should never keep you from talking to your doctor about anything, she says. (In a recent Health.com poll, 47% of respondents said theyd ignored a health problem because of embarrassment.) Whats more, sometimes those strange little symptoms or moments really do signal that somethings wrong.

“As smart as patients are these days, they dont always know whats normal or not,” Dr. Raj says. “Like gas. Everyone passes gas; its completely normal. But thinning hair, sweating profusely, vaginal odor—there may be some­thing going on that needs to be addressed. And we cant help if you dont tell us about it.” Here, her top ways to make talking to your doc (about anything) easier.

1. Its not a date
Its your job to be totally honest and open about whats going on, and its your docs job to be nonjudgmental about everything, Dr. Raj says: “This is a professional relationship. Its not like a first date. You dont have to make steady eye contact, be superarticulate, or worry about what kind of impression youre making.” If you feel like youre on a first date—or if your doc is too handsome or too cool for you to confess something embarrassing to—thats probably not the right doc for you, she says.

2. Be a regular
If youre having regular checkups and physicals, youre more likely to develop a comfy tell-all relationship with your doc, Dr. Raj says. Then youre not just calling when something funky crops up.

3. Prepare to strip
No matter why youre going to the doc, assume that youll end up in the paper gown. If being half-undressed makes you uncomfortable, do whatever you need to do to get comfortable. “Like your mama always told you, wear good underwear and shave your legs. It doesnt matter at all to the doc. But if it matters to you and affects whether or not youll be able to say what you need to say, be prepared,” Dr. Raj says. If you simply cannot talk to the doc while half-naked, ask to chat with him or her before the exam.

4. Talk your talk
Use your own words. The doc doesnt care if you say, “I notice blood every time I poop” versus “Im experiencing rectal bleeding” or “It smells weird down there” versus “Im experiencing some vaginal odor.” Describe your symptoms or problem in whatever words work best for you.

Write it down. If something is too embarrassing to say out loud, its OK to hand the doctor a list of questions and concerns, Dr. Raj says.
Roshini Rajapaksa, MD
Last Updated: September 21, 2009

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