6 Answers to Embarrassing Health Questions
Straight talk on common concerns—no blushing necessary.
1. Why do some foods make me gassier than others?
Certain foods don’t sit well with anyone (think baked beans and roasted Brussels sprouts), but excess gas could signal an allergy, sensitivity or intolerance, says Roshini Raj, MD, a gastroenterologist and associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center. Does lactose or gluten disagree with your system? Both are triggers for some people. Chewing gum, sugar-free candies containing xylitol and carbonated beverages can cause flatulence as well. “We all produce gas, but if it’s causing discomfort or embarrassment, there are things you can do,” says Raj. Cut specific foods from your diet, eat more probiotics or try an over-the-counter medicine such as Gas-X or Gasalia. Those small changes should keep your tummy trouble under control.
See your doc if gas interferes with your daily life—for example, if you’re avoiding social situations because of it.
2. What’s turning my toenails yellow?
You probably need a break from nail polish. Remove lacquer and wait a few weeks to see if the discoloration grows out and healthy nail forms at the cuticle. “Certain people have more porous nails and are more prone to pigment migration and the yellowing that comes with it,” says Dana Stern, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and member of the American Academy of Dermatology. Also, some shades (especially reds, oranges and browns) tend to stain nails. An extra layer of base coat should keep that from happening.
See your doc if polish isn’t the culprit. Your derm can determine whether you have a fungus or another medical condition.
3. How can I stop, ahem, leaking during workouts?
Try Kegels and talk to your doc. Accidents during exercise—or laughing, coughing or sneezing—happen when your abs quickly tighten and then release, creating pressure on your bladder, says Megan O. Schimpf, MD, associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and urology at the University of Michigan. Strong pelvic floor muscles assist your bladder so it doesn’t leak under pressure, but proper Kegels can be tricky. If you’re clenching your abs or butt, you’re not getting the right effect, says Schimpf. To pinpoint the correct muscles, pretend you’re holding in gas or urine. A doctor can refer you to a pelvic-floor physical therapist and explain new strategies for bladder control (like a pessary, injections or surgery). In the meantime, try Depend Silhouette Active Fit Briefs or Always Discreet Ultra Thin Incontinence Liners to work out without feeling like you’re wearing a diaper.
See your doc if leaks keep you from activities like exercise or cause pain (which could signal other problems). Find a urogynecologist at www.voicesforpfd.org.
4. Is there a way to get rid of varicose veins?
Yes, but the biggest mistake people make is waiting too long to try preventive techniques like elevation and wearing pressure stockings, says Jessica Krant, MD, an assistant clinical professor of Dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. True elevation means putting your ankles above your heart or level with it to offset gravity. (That little footstool won’t cut it—but nice try.) Consider stockings that are tighter at the bottom (called “graduated”) to help prevent blood from collecting in your leg veins. And avoid salty snacks—while they won’t worsen varicose veins, sodium can make you retain water and the veins seem puffier.
See your doc if veins are itchy or painful, or you want them treated for cosmetic reasons.
5. How do I know if I’m “regular”?
There’s no magic number for how often you should go to the bathroom. “What’s more important is a deviation from your regular pattern,” says Raj. If you feel fine and have had the same routine for a long time—whether that’s three times a week or twice a day—you’re probably okay. To move things along, slowly increase your fiber intake to 25 grams daily if you’re age 50 or under (21 grams if you’re older), and eat lots of probiotics from foods like yogurt and kimchi as well as cheeses that have live cultures added. Try healthy ways to manage tension too, since some neurotransmitters associated with stress can throw a wrench in your bathroom routine (and no one wants that).
See your doc if you’ve upped your fiber and probiotic intake for a month and haven’t returned to your norm.
6. What’s the best way to treat chafing between my thighs?
That’s just one of a number of spots that are often forgotten about until it’s too late and chafing gets really bothersome. Your first step is to stop the friction. Layer clothes so that fabric does the rubbing instead of your skin, and keep the skin dry so that it slides smoothly across other skin, says Krant. Next, use the right preventive product for your problem area. Antiperspirant on your inner thighs may help as long as it doesn’t create a rash on the delicate skin. For under your breasts, use a dry product containing absorbent cornstarch powder (like Burt’s Bees Baby Dusting Powder). Some runners and cyclists swear by petroleum jelly, but Body Glide has a variety of plant-based balms specifically for fending off irritation and saddle sores. To treat chafing, look for ointments that have protective zinc oxide (like Skinfix Rash Repair Balm).
See your doc if chafing gets worse or doesn’t improve with over-the-counter treatments.
Some wise advice: Come out of your shell. “It can feel embarrassing to talk about some personal symptoms, but doctors hear these things every day and want to help,” says Megan O. Schimpf, MD.