Embarrassment is a powerful motivator, and when it prevents a patient from disclosing the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth to their doctor, it can result in costly repercussions. Unfortunately, in our society, there are social stigmas surrounding common disorders, symptoms, and lifestyles. A recent study found that 46% of Americans have avoided telling their doctor about a health issue because of fear of being judged or embarrassed. Non-disclosure can result in misdiagnosis, prescription errors, and worsening symptoms.
The following list examines the top 5 things women don’t tell their doctor.
Because of the social stigma surrounding female sexual behavior, patients sometimes choose not to disclose all the details of their sexual past out of fear of being judged or lectured by their doctor. When details such as the number of sexual partners, having sex without a condom, and having sex with someone with an STI, aren’t accurately communicated, the doctor may assess risk inaccurately, and fail to screen for certain diseases.
Sometimes patients don’t divulge information about their sexual history because they feel the information is irrelevant, such as disclosure of diseases or disorders that are no longer symptomatic. Some STI’s may lay dormant without symptoms, or go away and come back over time, or leave you at higher risk of other complications. Failing to bring up past diseases and disorders during an appointment may have serious consequences.
Discussing vaginal discharge and/or odor is also commonly avoided. Although there are many over-the-counter treatments patients may prefer to try first to avoid an embarrassing conversation, these symptoms should be discussed with a physician, as vaginal discharge/odor may be dangerous and a sign of infection.
Bowel and bladder changes
Patients lie about bowel and bladder changes for a number of reasons. Discussing bowel movements and/or incontinence can be an embarrassing or unpleasant conversation. And because common bowel and bladder dysfunction is often linked to advanced age, women may be even more hesitant to begin the conversation. Fortunately, there are many non-invasive treatment options available, including medical and natural remedies, so disclosing bowel and bladder changes with your physician often results in a simple treatment plan.
If you are experiencing bowel and bladder changes, schedule an appointment and discuss your symptoms with a Family Practitioner or Urologist at Western Washington Medical Group. Confronting your symptoms as soon as possible will help you avoid potentially embarrassing experiences, painful symptoms, or worsening conditions in the future.
Tobacco, alcohol, illegal substances, prescription drug abuse
It’s no secret that the abuse of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal substances can be harmful to your health. Patients, and especially women who are pregnant, avoid discussing abuse of these substances to avoid a lecture or judgment from their physician, or out of fear of being reported to their guardians or the authorities. Prescription drug abuse is a topic that is commonly downplayed or avoided for these same reasons, and because of fear of having their prescription revoked by their physician, even if they know it may be harmful to them.
Over-the-counter medication is cited as one of the most commonly used substances in 12th graders, after alcohol and marijuana, and prescription drug abuse is most common in youth and older adult women. Some medications and treatments can counteract each other or cause serious side effects when paired with other medications or substances. Substance abuse can also affect liver function or increase risk of ulcers or cancer. If doctors don’t know your habits, they may misdiagnose, prescribe the wrong medication, or unintentionally escalate the condition.
Depression affects 1 in 10 adults, making it one of the most common health concerns in the United States, as well as a global health issue. Women are twice as likely to struggle with depression than their male counterparts. Although an estimated 121 million people nationally suffer from depression, it remains a stigmatized mental health issue, which makes some patients hesitant to talk about it with their physician. If you are suffering from depression, talk about it with your physician. Your doctor can offer advice, refer you to a specialist, suggest a counselor to help you deal with stress, and evaluate if lifestyle changes, medications, or therapy might help with your depression.
Natural equals healthy right? Not always. For many patients taking herbal supplements, disclosing details about supplement use with their physician may seem irrelevant. Sometimes patients may avoid discussing use of herbal supplements for fear of their doctor looking down on them for trying to cure something naturally rather than through the use of modern medicine. If you are taking herbal supplements, it’s imperative that you discuss what you’re taking with your doctor. Naturopathic supplements are not regulated by the FDA the way prescription drugs are, and some are dangerous if they’re taken incorrectly or combined with other treatments. For example, St. Johns Wort has been seen to cancel out birth control, leading to unintended pregnancy. It has also been seen to counteract anti-rejection drugs after a transplant. If you are taking herbal supplements, your doctor can help you make sure you’re taking them correctly and that they’re not negatively reacting with any other treatments.
Your doctor exists to help you stay healthy. They are not there to judge you or the decisions you make, they just want what is absolutely best for you. If you are afraid you might freeze up in front of your doctor out of embarrassment, bring a list of your symptoms and concerns with you and you and your doctor can discuss the best way to address these issues. Sometimes it is easier to communicate in writing rather than expressing your symptoms verbally on the spot. This will also reduce the chance of forgetting to mention something in the moment. And if you ever wonder if something is worth bringing up, bring it up! Your doctor wants to help, so make your visit worth both of your time. The faster you ‘fess up, the more time you can spend returning to your healthy, happy self.