How to Talk To Your Doctor About Embarrassing Questions

How to Talk To Your Doctor About Embarrassing Questions

Going to the doctor isn’t exactly fun -- and it can be downright uncomfortable if you’ve got an embarrassing body issue you’re nervous to ask about. But we can help you avoid turning beet red or shying away from the subject.  

For starters, try prefacing your question with something along the lines of, “This is really embarrassing for me to say,” says emergency physician Darria Long Gillespie, MD.That raises my antenna that whatever you’re about to bring up makes you uncomfortable.”

Check out more advice from Dr. Gillespie on how to talk to your doctor about embarrassing health questions. 

Sharecare: Whether you’re a man or a woman, talking about genital issues is awkward. What can make it easier? 
Dr. Gillespie: I generally try to avoid using medical terminology with a patient, but sometimes, especially with an embarrassing medical topic, it can help. Instead of using slang words to explain what’s going on “down there,” I encourage patients to do some research before coming in and to try and describe it in those terms -- for example, saying “genitalia” in place of “vagina.” It makes the situation a little more medical and a little less personal, and that can help ease the embarrassment.

Sharecare: How can patients bring up bladder leakage without feeling embarrassed?
Dr. Gillespie: A great habit that I’ve seen for bladder issues, especially since they can be recurrent, is to keep a journal. Write down what your symptoms are and when you’re having them. Having it written down to hand to the physician also means you don’t have to discuss it out loud as much, which can be helpful.

Sharecare: Poop is another uncomfortable topic. What should patients know when talking to their doctor about bathroom issues?
Dr. Gillespie: As before, this would be one of those special circumstances where using medical jargon can make the situation less embarrassing. And here’s the thing: talking about your poop with anyone can be embarrassing. But this is what you need to remember: To your doctor, problems you are having with your stool would be no different than problems you are having with your ear or your nose or your neck. Think of it from that angle when you’re speaking with your physician.

Sharecare: What if I have an embarrassing question, but I don’t want to ask because someone is in the room with me?
Dr. Gillespie: If you have a family member or someone else with you and you don’t want them to know what’s going on, you can either ask them to leave, or if that’s too awkward, take a “bathroom break.” Then, when you’re outside the exam room, grab one of the nurses or doctors and let them know you’re uncomfortable opening up in front of your loved one. As the doctor, I have no problem taking the blame for making the family leave.

Sharecare: Any other advice to help patients talk to their doctors about embarrassing health issues?
Dr. Gillespie: Something I tell every patient is that no matter how embarrassing the topic is, your doctor has heard it and seen it before. Period. You’re not going to surprise your doctor and you’re not going to embarrass him or her. And always tell the truth about your embarrassing symptoms. Remember, the reason you are talking to your doctor about your symptoms is so that you can get to the root of the problem and solve it. 

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