5 Topics Women Are Too Embarrassed to Discuss with Their Doctor—but Shouldn’t Be

As published in Northwest Asian Weekly

Some health topics are embarrassing, so much that women are afraid to talk about them even in the privacy of a doctor’s office. It’s understandable. Sharing personal information on uncomfortable topics with a person you hardly know is bound to be unsettling. Understand, however, that as medical providers are here to help and ensure you remain happy and healthy. The top five topics encountered for most patients to talk about include:

Urinary incontinence

Millions of women experience involuntary loss of urine, which is called urinary incontinence (UI). While the cause is determined by a few different factors, the severity of UI can vary anywhere from slightly bothersome to totally debilitating. For some women, the risk of public embarrassment keeps them from enjoying many activities with their family and friends. Typically, older women experience UI more frequently than younger women; however, it is not inevitable with age. UI is a medical problem that can be helped by a doctor or physical therapist through medication and muscle-strengthening exercises.

Urinary tract infections or UTIs

A urinary tract infection is when bacteria get into your bladder or kidneys. Common symptoms often include a burning sensation when urinating, frequent urges to urinate, pressure or pain in the lower part of your back and stomach, and discolored or strange-smelling urine. Antibiotics are prescribed to get rid of the infection, but to help avoid the infection altogether the recommendation is to use the restroom more frequently (every 2–4 hours), increase daily fluid intake, supplement with cranberry extract tablets, and eat more foods with vitamin C.

Frequent urination

When frequent urination becomes a distraction in your life or prevents you from activities with family and friends, you should see your doctor. Are there other factors that are contributing to the symptoms first? These would include excessive intake of caffeine or fluids, frequent constipation, maintaining an unhealthy weight, and smoking. Usually by managing these factors, patients can help to eliminate the problem of frequent urination. If the problem remains, prescription medication can be taken to block the nerve signals that cause frequent urination and urgency due to an overactive bladder.

Pelvic exam

In the past women were encouraged to have an annual pelvic exam; however, recent guidelines published in the Annals of Internal Medicine say that healthy women do not need a pelvic exam every year. Instead, an exam every two to three years is advised. It is recommended that women continue to be routinely checked for cervical cancer and get a Pap smear test once every three years after age 21.

Contraception

A multitude of contraception methods is available today. All protect against pregnancy, but how do you know which one works best for you and your partner? By talking with your doctor, you can choose the method that’s right for you. The most common methods include oral contraceptives, which work to prevent pregnancy but do not protect against sexually transmitted diseases or infections (STDs/STIs); condoms, which are also great at preventing pregnancy and are the only way to prevent STDs/STIs; and birth control implants used for long-term pregnancy prevention. Implants include a rod inserted into your arm or an intrauterine device (IUD) inserted into your uterus; these are respectively effective up to three and 10 years.

Talking about these things can be embarrassing, uncomfortable and hard at times, but addressing them is important. Find a doctor you are comfortable with and is also willing to discuss these issues. You should never be afraid to ask for advice.

Richard Wasserman, MD, specializes in urogynecology.