Your Embarrassing Health Questions Answered
We have the answers to those cringe-worthy health questions you can't bear to discuss with your doctor.
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.
- Doctor Yourself: Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen (Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve), to reduce prostaglandin production a day or two before your period starts. Should you miss that window, try popping an over-the-counter (OTC) anti-diarrheal medication, such as Imodium, on the bad days.
- Call Your M.D.: If your diarrhea is not controlled by OTC meds, you may have an underlying condition (such as endometriosis) and need alternate therapy.
"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.
- Doctor Yourself: "Keep a food diary for two weeks," suggests Patricia Raymond, M.D., associate professor of clinical internal medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk. "Watch for patterns. Gas typically occurs a few hours after eating, so you may be able to trace what's triggering yours."When dairy products seem to cause bloating, try OTC lactase supplements like Lactaid. For general gassiness, OTC medications such as simethicone (consider Gas-X), activated charcoal and Beano may provide some relief.
- Call Your M.D.: Should bloating worsen or if it's not the only symptom, ask your doctor whether a more serious issue (anything from gluten sensitivity to ovarian cancer) could be affecting you.
"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.
- Doctor Yourself: Plucking, waxing, bleaching and depilatory creams are inexpensive solutions. Even shaving is fine—it's a myth that the hair grows back thicker. The diameter of the hair that comes through the skin surface appears thicker because it's not tapered.
- Call Your M.D.: Laser hair removal and electrolysis are long-term fixes, lasting for years. But they're expensive and require multiple visits, says Dr. Terezakis. A less pricey option is Vaniqa, a prescription cream that slows hair growth. But tell your doctor about any other symptoms (hair on your chest, acne, irregular periods), which may be signs of a hormonal imbalance called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
"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.
- Doctor Yourself: Wear dark-colored cotton clothing, which dries quickly and can help conceal sweat marks. Also, apply antiperspirants in the morning and before bed to all your sweatiest areas: Soft solids go on easy under arms and bra straps as well as along the hairline; try aerosols on feet and between toes. Look for products labeled "clinical strength." They contain more of a sweat-duct-blocking ingredient than regular formulas.
- Call Your M.D.: When these remedies still leave you self-conscious, ask about prescription antiperspirants (such as Drysol) or prescription oral medications (such as Robinul, which prevents the stimulation of sweat glands). Periodic Botox injections and miraDry (a new procedure using microwave technology) also provide long-term results, but only for armpits.
"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.
- Call Your M.D.: Unfortunately, there aren't any OTC treatments for BV, so you have to dial your ob-gyn. You'll need a prescription antibiotic, such as metronidazole, that's taken orally or as a vaginal cream. If symptoms return, a second round of antibiotics should do the trick, says Dr. Merrill-Nach.
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.
- Doctor Yourself: Drink the recommended nine cups of water per day, and aim for 25 grams of daily fiber from whole grains, fruits and veggies. Or try stool softeners, an OTC supplement containing psyllium (such as Metamucil or Konsyl) or osmotic laxatives (such as Miralax). Regular exercise also helps bowels move, says Dr. Schnoll-Sussman.
- Call Your M.D.: Report any change in bathroom habits that lasts a few weeks as well as unexplained weight loss, rectal bleeding or fatigue, which can be signs of colon cancer.
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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