Tips for talking to a doctor about an embarrassing problem.

How to talk to a doctor about an embarrassing problem.When you’ve got an embarrassing problem it can take a lot of courage to talk to a medical professional and get help.  For example women with incontinence problems will wait an average of 8 years before asking for treatment.

We’ve put this page together to help you take those first steps to getting medical help if you’re feeling shy.  We’re going to look at finding the courage to see the doctor and how to get the most out of your consultation when you do go.

Step 1. Finding the courage to make an appointment.make doctor appointment

Here are a few questions to think about when you’re making the decision to see your doctor:

  • How important is this problem to you?  Use a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 is very important.
  • What does this problem stop you doing?
  • How does it make you feel?
  • What stops you going to see the doctor?

Now think ahead a little:

  • How will you feel when you’ve had treatment and the problem is better/cured?
  • How will life be different or better?
  • What will happen if you DON’T take action to solve the problem?

You may have heard of the pleasure-pain principle, which says that we naturally either move towards pleasure (in this case, being free of the embarrassing problem) or away from pain (the problem getting worse or it continuing to make us miserable).  So when you feel your courage to talk to the doctor waning, remember how you will feel when the problem is better.

Step 2.  Make an appointment.

When you call the doctor’s office to make an appointment, choose a time of day when you won’t have to rush – eg not before the kids’ school run or before work.

Ask for the right amount of time for your consultation.  In the UK, GPs have 10 minute appointments, so one problem can be discussed per 10 minute slot.  If you feel you need longer or have 2 or more issues to discuss, then ask for a longer appointment.

If you would prefer not to see your usual doctor for any reason then say so (s/he won’t be offended).  If you would prefer to see a female or male doctor then ask.

Step 3.  Preparing to see your doctor.

In order to get the most out of the time you have with your doctor, make a couple of lists.

Firstly make a list of the questions you want to ask  – eg what’s the treatment, how long will it take to be effective, will the problem come back again, do I need surgery, how can I prevent it.  And take another piece of paper to write down the answers.  Sometimes when we’re anxious or there’s a lot of information to take in, it’s easy to forget what the doctor has said.

Ask for any information leaflets or websites that will help you understand what the doctor is saying.

Secondly think about the symptoms of your embarrassing problem:

  • If you have pain
    •  How long have you had it?
    • Where is it?
    • What does it feel like – stabbing, aching, piercing, grinding etc?
    • When does the pain come on, or is it there all the time?
    • Is it worse at some times?
    • How long does it last when it comes on?
    • What eases the pain – pain killers, a different position etc?
  • If you have a discharge
    • What does it look like – colour, thickness, consistency (smooth, lumpy etc)?
    • Does it smell?
    • When do you get it or is it there all the time?
    • How long have you had it?

Also have a list of the medications that you are currently taking, both on prescription and non-prescription drugs.  Include any herbal or complimentary therapies.

Think about your family medical history if you know it.  Some problems can run in families and this information can help the doctor in making a diagnosis.

Step 4. Seeing your doctor.

Arrive in good time for your appointment so that you don’t feel flustered.  Take a book or listen to your iPod in the waiting room if you’re feeling anxious – just remember to listen for your name to be called.

When you’re with the doctor, use the right words to describe your problem.  A lot of medical words like penis, vagina, labia, incontinence, discharge, etc aren’t pretty words or ones we use in everyday language.  Many people use nick-names or phrases for their body parts and problems but saying ‘I’ve got a sore daisy’ won’t mean anything to your doctor.

So use words that will help the doctor understand what you want to say.

Listen to the doctor’s questions and answer questions as their asked rather than reading from the lists you prepared above.  The doctor’s thinking processes are helping him/her towards a diagnosis so s/he will ask questions as needed.


Step 5.  Points to remember when seeing your doctor.

Your doctor is a professional and:

  • Will not laugh at you or your problem.
  • Will not tell your friends about your problem.
  • Has seen this sort of problem before.
  • Does not blame you (but might suggest ways that a problem can be avoided in future).
  • Wants to help.
  • Wants to help you to help yourself (so take good advice and follow instructions).
  • Is human too.