Despite the popularity of Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies, many of us are mortified at the thought of telling our GPs about any awkward health concerns.
Indeed, a survey by PushDoctor.co.uk, which studied 61 million UK Google searches for ‘embarrassing’ conditions, showed that among our most embarrassing concerns are anxiety, chlamydia and thrush. And top of the list is bipolar disorder.
So why are we sometimes so embarrassed about seeing our GP?
“Some people are worried about bothering their doctor unnecessarily,” says Dr Helen Webberley, a GP who also provides advice at www.oxfordonlinepharmacy.co.uk. “Are they wasting their doctor’s time and NHS resources?
“That’s where online services are really helpful, because you can pay and just email your question. Some NHS GPs are giving advice by email, too.
“On the other hand, if you do have to see your NHS GP, then that’s what we’re there for. “Whichever way you do it, just make sure you do get the advice you need.”
If you’re feeling nervous, bear in mind that while a condition might seem awful for you, your doctor will most likely be unfazed.
“We’ve seen it all, we’ve heard it all, there’s nothing really that’s going to shock us,” explains Dr Webberley – who suggests writing down the problem and rehearsing revealing it if you’re feeling nervous.
“What we’d never want is for people to not go to the doctor just because they were embarrassed. If you are worried [about a condition], then you need to go to the GP.”
So what should you do if you’re suffering from the following, supposedly ‘embarrassing’, conditions?
“With sweating, sometimes it’s just cosmetic; some people have sweaty palms or very sweaty underarms,” explains Dr Webberley. “That doesn’t mean anything bad, but it’s just horrible [for the sufferer].”
It’s important to see your GP to rule out more serious conditions like lymphoma – and also because they might be able to prescribe medical deodorants to stop the sweating, and advise you on how to cope with the condition.
Like all concerns, the earlier you can see your GP about any mental health issues you’re facing, the better.
“Some women, and a lot of men, come to me and say, ‘I had this appointment and I couldn’t come, I was just too embarrassed’,” says Dr Webberley.
“By the time they come, it’s not too late, but you’re sweeping them off the floor –whereas if you’d had them two months ago, when they were just entering a really stressful time, you could have really helped them and avoided a meltdown.”
Even if you think your doctor won’t be able to help, Dr Webberley says the opposite is true. “We’re good at caring, listening, helping, supporting,” she says.
Causing itching, irritation and swelling, thrush is the blight of many women’s lives.
But even if you think you know how to deal with it, it doesn’t mean you should proceed with self-treatment.
“Until you’ve had a test for thrush, you don’t know that you’ve got it,” says Dr Webberley.
“It could be a sexually transmitted infection or it could be a nasty reaction to vaginal deodorants. It could be anything as nasty as vulval cancer, so get it checked out before you treat it yourself.”
This common sexually transmitted disease (STI) can be passed from one person to another through unprotected sexual contact and affects both men and women.
Often it has very few symptoms, although can cause pain when urinating, unusual discharge from the vagina, penis or back passage, pain in the testicles or bleeding between periods for women.
“People in the olden days didn’t want to see their GP because they felt really dirty about it,” says Dr Webberley. “These days, there are so many avenues for people to get help. We’d rather people get help in any way they can than let it cause the damage it does.”
More online services mean many people are doing a test via the internet and then seeing their doctor.
“It’s a simple treatment of antibiotics and it’s gone,” she says.
Unsurprisingly, very few adults enjoy discussing their poo!
“No one likes talking about their bowels, nobody at all, but we’re used to it,” reassures Dr Webberley. “Anything that is unusual or is different for you, get it checked out.”
Things to be on the lookout for are blood in your poo, changes in the frequency of bowel movements, constipation, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, bloating and discomfort.
Guffing, farting, wind…whatever you call it, flatulence can be an embarrassing complaint. But if yours is causing you concern, book an appointment with your doctor.
“Flatulence doesn’t usually mean anything bad, but people with IBS or constipation can get quite flatulent,” explains Dr Webberley.
“We don’t tend to see a lot of it and it doesn’t tend to worry us, but again if it’s something you’re not sure about, you should get it looked at.”
Hairiness for some women might mean a few unwanted whiskers – for others, it could be a full growth of chin hair. In any case, your doctor is the best port of call.
“Is it just because you’re getting older or is it because you’ve got a hormonal imbalance?” says Dr Webberley. “If you don’t get it checked out, you don’t know. These days there’s a very good cream called Vaniqa for women who have hairy chins so they don’t have to suffer any more, but you can only get it on prescription.
“For younger women, it might mean polycystic ovaries – which affects fertility – so just going on the contraceptive pill can help. Don’t be embarrassed: if you’re stressing about it come and ask us. That’s what we’re here for.”