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Your Embarrassing Health Questions Answered

We have the answers to those cringe-worthy health questions you can't bear to discuss with your doctor.

By Arricca SanSone

You've nursed your kid through icky ailments—remember that lice outbreak?—and lived to tell the tale to the stranger seated next to you on a plane. You've even compared detailed notes on the birthing experience with your BFF. Yet there are some health issues you're way too mortified to bring up even with your M.D. So you e-mailed them to us. We didn't blush once—but we did get the solutions you seek.

"Why do I get diarrhea during my period?"

Things are bad enough during that time of the month. So what's with the annoying changes in bathroom habits to boot? Here's what's happening: "During your cycle, your uterus produces chemicals called prostaglandins that cause cramping," says Suzanne Merrill-Nach, M.D., an ob-gyn in private practice in San Diego. Overproduction of prostaglandins means cramps can occur in the uterus and the intestines, causing diarrhea.

"Why do I feel so bloated after eating?"

There's no question about it: What you ingest can make you gassy. But there's plenty of irony in the fact that the best foods for you—beans, veggies such as broccoli, and dairy products—create the worst gas. And some people are just more sensitive to the discomfort than others.

"Where did this mustache come from all of a sudden?"

"I jokingly call it a 'birthday gift,'" says Nia Terezakis, M.D., a dermatologist in private practice in New Orleans. "As we get older, estrogen drops, leading to higher androgen levels, and we may develop more facial hair." It runs in families, so a mom or aunts who are hairy mean you may be too.

"Help! I'm sweaty all the time."

It could be hyperhidrosis, a condition in which perspiration exceeds what's needed to maintain ideal body temperature. "Nobody knows what causes it," says Patricia Farris, M.D., clinical associate professor of dermatology at Tulane University. It tends to run in families and often shows up first in your teens or twenties, so keep an eye on your kids as they enter adolescence.

"There's a bad smell down there."

It's completely normal to have vaginal secretions, which are usually clear or whitish with almost no scent. "But a change in consistency or odor means you may have bacterial vaginosis (BV), an infection due to the overgrowth of naturally occurring bacteria," says Dr. Merrill-Nach. Sometimes it also causes a fishy smell that worsens after sex. While BV is the most common vaginal infection in premenopausal women, its cause is unknown.

"I'm constipated...again."

We've all been there. Constipation is one of the most common GI complaints in the U.S. But how often you go isn't the issue. "It's about how you feel," says gastroenterologist Felice Schnoll-Sussman, M.D., acting director of the Jay Monahan Center for Gastrointestinal Health at NewYork–Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. "You're constipated when you're straining, you have hard stools or sense your bowels are not emptied."If you don't get adequate fluids or fiber—or are on pain medications or supplements such as calcium and iron—you may be more likely to get backed up.

How to Tell Your Doctor Anything

Trust us, your M.D. has heard it all. But if you're still considering suffering in silence instead of speaking up, try these approaches:

Admit you're nervous. It's a good icebreaker. "Say something like, 'I'm a little uncomfortable with this next problem. Can you help me with it?'" suggests Dr. Raymond.

Use your pen. At home, jot down some notes about when your problem started and what makes it better or worse. Read off the list or hand it to your doctor so you don't have to say a word.

Look over there! Cast your glance at the wall or out a window (eye contact can be disconcerting) and just blurt it out. "Really, there's nothing that shocks me or my nurses at this point," says Robin Ashinoff, M.D., chief of dermatologic, Mohs and laser surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey

Let regret inspire you. "You don't want to go home wishing that you had asked me something," says Dr. Merrill-Nach. Bypass disappointment later by convincing yourself to pipe up now.

Originally published in the July 2013 issue of Family Circle magazine.

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