How to talk to your doctor about embarrassing topics

Tips on talking to your doctor about sensitive issues

Embarrassed to talk to your doctor? Here are some topics patients avoid talking about and tips on speaking up to your physician.

The most under-discussed topics in an exam room include:

  • Mental health concerns
  • Hair loss
  • Body odors, including fecal odors
  • Bad breath
  • Sexual issues
  • Screenings for sexually transmitted infections and diseases
  • Urinary incontinence

There are many reasons these topics might make you feel uncomfortable discussing them with a doctor or nurse practioner. But a conversation about a health issue is likely much easier to handle than a potential illness or worsening of symptoms. Your provider’s exam room or office is a safe, nonjudgmental place to talk about all these topics.

Norton Community Medical Associates

Primary care in Louisville, Southern Indiana and surrounding areas at over 30 locations staffed by teams of experienced physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and other medical care providers

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Here are five ways to get the information and help you might need:

See your doctor as your partner in health

Try viewing your doctors and nurses as teammates in the game of better health instead of opponents. Their job is to help you be as healthy as possible, but it’s a two-way street. They can’t help what they don’t know about.

Write it down

Keep notes about the changes and symptoms you experience, including time, circumstances, or triggers. For example, “My knee hurts when I go down stairs but not going up.” This will help you remember what you need to speak to the doctor about and also helps calm nerves.

Remember some key phrases

Start your conversation with phrases such as, “I’m very nervous,” or, “This topic makes me uncomfortable.” This is a good heads-up to your doctor that something important is going on.

Be direct

Leave the socially appropriate terms in the waiting room. This is the time to explain exactly what your symptoms are, including where, when, and how much. Do you notice a foul odor when you have a bowel movement? Describe the smell in detail. If sex is painful, tell the doctor where it hurts and for how long it has felt this way. Coming at these topics with honesty and clarity are the best way to find solutions.

Move on if you need to

The sooner you get help with sensitive health issues, the sooner you can start feeling better. If you find you just don’t click with your doctor, ask for a referral from friends. Doctors want patients who trust them, and you’re not going to hurt their feelings by seeking out a different provider.

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