The thought of talking about certain parts of our health – and our bodies – can cause many of us to clam up, even with our physicians. This silence, though, means that potential health issues may go untreated. Nicole Florence, MD, a pediatrician and internal medicine physician at Memorial Physician Services, encourages patients to speak up about everything going on with their bodies and health while they are in the doctor’s office.
“There are many reasons why people don’t want to talk about sensitive things with their doctor,” Dr. Florence said. “Often it’s embarrassing, and they may fear they will be judged. Sometimes, patients even think that the doctor may be too busy and doesn’t have time to listen.”
However, such fears or assumptions can make your physician’s job harder. By not telling him or her what is going on, you may be preventing yourself from receiving important help or care.
“An open, trusting relationship with your physician is important,” Dr. Florence added. “If you don’t feel comfortable talking with your doctor, it may mean that it’s not a good fit.”
Three Common Topics to Discuss with Your Doctor
1. Bowel movements: Your stool quality and habits reveal a lot about the health of your digestive system and can provide insight about other things going on in your body. Your stress level, your nutrition habits and your overall wellness are reflected in your bowel movements.
“This is a very common subject for me to talk about with patients, so there is no need to feel shy or embarrassed,” Dr. Florence said. “If something is different or doesn’t feel right, tell your physician.”
Tell your physician if you are experiencing:
- Unusual colors: red, black, maroon
- Unusual frequency: more than six times a day, at least once every other day
- Pain/pressure to go
2. Stress and mental health: Because of societal stigma about mental health issues, patients can be hesitant to admit they are experiencing anxiety, depression or other problems. However, a person’s mental wellness has a direct effect on his or her physical health and relationships with others.
“It can be really hard for a person to say, ‘I have a lot of anxiety in my life, and I’m struggling,’ or even just ask about ways to manage stress. People sometimes believe that makes them seem weak or unable to take care of themselves and others,” Dr. Florence said. “Telling your doctor means that you’re helping yourself get the care you need. These sorts of issues are not unusual, and there are many options for treatment that you can choose from.”
3. Sex: It can be very difficult to talk about one of the most discreet areas of many people’s lives. However, as with other embarrassing subjects, sexual function is related to a person’s health in many other ways.
“To try to make things a little easier, I typically break the conversation down into two categories: motivation and function. I find it helps break that ice and allow people to open up,” Dr. Florence said.
She also notes that sexual dysfunction can have sources in other potentially significant health issues, such as uncontrolled diabetes and changes due to menopause (in both men and women).
With any of these embarrassing issues, what patients can become accustomed to as “normal” may actually be an abnormal health situation. When you are able to talk to your physician about all aspects of your health, you will find that help is available and many issues can be addressed.
Find the Right Physician for You
Dr. Florence encourages patients to look for some key characteristics in a physician.
“You should be able to let your guard down when you’re with your physician and talk openly about things with the confidence that there will be a confidential, non-judgmental conversation,” she said. “If you don’t feel comfortable with your doctor, or you can’t ask or be asked frank questions about all aspects of your health, it may be time to look for a different physician.”
If you are looking for a primary care provider, Memorial Physician Services can match you with a physician or provider to meet your individual needs. For more information, visit memorialmd.com or call 855-FIND-MPS (346-3677).Enjoy LiveWell Online Magazine? Stay up-to-date with a free email subscription!