There’s nothing worse than realising you’re just going to have to bite the bullet and talk to your GP about a particularly embarrassing problem, let alone pulling yourself together and actually doing it. We’re British, after all!
But what if your avoidance is doing you more harm than good? According to a recent survey, there’s a word us women could be avoiding so much so, that we’re putting our health in danger by not going to the doctor for a chat about it!
A study conducted by Ovarian Cancer Action found that two thirds of women between the ages of 18-24 are too embarrassed to say the word ‘vagina’ to a doctor, compared with just 11 per cent of women aged 55 to 64. Alarming when you consider that around 7,100 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year.
Professor Christina Fotopoulou, consultant gynaecological oncologist at Queen Charlotte’s & Chelsea Hospital, confirmed how vital it is for women to be able to talk to a GP about their problems. ‘It is important that women don’t feel embarrassed to go to the doctor and get treatment if necessary. We can save these women when the disease is caught early.’
Not being able to utter ‘vagina’ to a healthcare professional isn’t the only thing we’re guilty of avoiding. It’s far too easy to pass symptoms off as unimportant and no big deal, particularly when they’re high on the cringe scale. ‘Oh I’m sure it’ll stop soon.’ ‘A quick Google and I probably don’t have any of those scary-sounding issues do I?’
Health website Healthista‘s GP Dr Deyo Famuboni has explained exactly why you need to get over your fears, and the 7 symptoms you need to get down to the doctor for.
And remember, if you’re not appearing on Embarrassing Bodies as their latest guest then it really can’t be that bad at all!
1. Abnormal smell
If ‘down there’ is smelling a little ‘fishy’, it could be because of an overgrowth in bacteria caused when the natural environment of the vagina becomes upset, known as Bacterial Vaginosis – a common condition in many women. This is different from a yeast infection, which can be itchy with an odourless discharge and easily treatable with over the encounter medication, such as Canesten.
Usually, bacterial vaginosis doesn’t cause further problems, but if it occurs at certain times, such as during pregnancy, it may increase the risk of early delivery. It is also associated with a higher risk of sexually transmitted infections and inflammation of the pelvic region, so it’s worth having it treated by your doctor.
2. Painful bowel motions
This is often due to haemorrhoids or fissures around the back passage, and straining due to constipation can make this worse – causing trauma to the surrounding area. If this happens the pain can make you less inclined to pass stools, so it’s important to have this treated to prevent serious constipation, profuse bleeding and infection in that area.
Eating more fibre-rich foods, getting some exercise and drinking plenty of water should all help. You can also buy laxatives, topical ointments and suppositories from a pharmacy or have them prescribed from the doctor. Bleeding or lower abdominal discomfort or pain are also both symptoms of bowel cancer, so if you’re worried visit your GP.
3. Excessive sweating
It’s hard to believe, but according to the NHS most people sweat about a litre a day, and around 3 in 100 produce ten times as much sweat each day. There are various reasons why sweating can become excessive, but sweating continuously, regardless of how active or stressed you are, usually means the sweat glands are constantly activated. This is a condition called hyperhidrosis.
The cause of this can range from infections to hormone problems and idiopathic, so finding and treating the reason is crucial. Some sweating can be reduced with topical preparations available on prescription if antiperspirant isn’t working. A referral to a dermatologist may be required as other treatment options such as ionotophoresis (the use of water currents to stop sweating), oral medications or botox are available.
Usually caused by eating foods and drinks that cause excess wind, bloating can also be the result of other factors. If the bloating is associated with other symptoms, such as urine or bowel frequency, or abdominal pain, then take a trip to your doctor who might test for problems such as coeliac disease (an intolerance to gluten affecting one in 100 people) or fibroids (a common condition affecting up to 40& of women that isn’t harmful, but may require surgery).
5. Nipple changes
If your nipples are leaking, inverted or the skin around the nipple area has changed, there could be several causes, including problems with your hormones. If you aren’t breastfeeding but producing breast milk, this should be investigated as you may have too much of the hormone prolactin.
Other causes include medications, stress, thyroid and kidney problems, which are all treatable. However, if left untreated it can affect your periods, cause infertility, and even contribute to osteoporosis.
Incontinence affects a staggering 1 in 3 women, yet it’s something we talk very little about due to the stigma attached to it. Women often find they leak urine when exercising, especially running, or when they cough, sneeze, lift something heavy or laugh, known as stress urinary incontinence, and can be due to the increase in abdominal pressure with exercise or because of an overactive bladder. The latter is known as urge incontinence.
As well as exercise, some medications, weak pelvic muscles and urine infections can also cause incontinence. Treatment options vary, but it’s important to see your doctor to rule out any structural abnormalities, test your urine and direct you in the treatment path that would be more suited to your symptoms.
7. Low libido
This one’s a little more complex, as the cause could be physical, psychological or social. Women can experience low libido due to hormone changes, yet mental health problems, such as depression, are also a common cause. Depression affects the chemicals in your brain which are required for a normal libido such as serotonin. There may be other symptoms of depression such as trouble sleeping, general aches, as well as feeling sad and hopeless.
Speaking to a healthcare professional can help work out whether your symptoms are due to depression or stress and also signpost you to the best treatment option for you, such as talking therapy, mindfulness or exercise therapy. If you think you might be depressed and you don’t want to go to your doctor then visit the Mind website for more help and information.