emotional wellbeing Mandy Kloppers

Breaking the Ice: How to Discuss Sensitive Health Issues With Your Doctor

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Our bodies work and function in fascinating, complicated ways. When something is not quite right, most people don’t think twice about booking a doctor’s appointment or arranging a prescription delivery. This is especially true when you are troubled with a persistent cough or an itchy rash on your arms and legs.

But when it comes to sensitive topics, it is not always easy for patients to open up to their GPs. Social stigmas around specific health issues, as well as conditions that may alter one’s appearance, can make people embarrassed to confide their discomfort with their doctor.

So to help you address uncomfortable health topics, whether that’s incontinence, body odours, or venereal infections, we have put together a few tips that will allow you to talk freely with your clinician and get the help you deserve.

 

Don’t worry: doctors have seen and heard it all before

We all have unique bodies and experiences. However, from day one, healthcare professionals are likely to have seen, learnt, and treated all sorts of conditions, including those that you may think of as ‘awkward’.

Let’s say, for example, that a patient has haemorrhoids, which are swellings that are found around the rectum and anus. Due to the nature of the condition and the areas it interests, some people may feel discouraged to inform their doctor. However, studies show that haemorrhoids affect up to 36% of the UK population, meaning that your clinician is likely to have addressed this common problem in the past, and will be more than happy to offer advice.

There is no hiding that airing your concerns about a specific condition can cause feelings of anxiety. But the reality is that listening and noting down your preoccupations is just part of a doctor’s job. It is also their duty to always be unjudgmental and unbiased, and this mentality is so ingrained in them that you can feel safe opening up to your GP.

Try to remember and view your doctor as an ally who wants to help you find a solution to your problem. If you let them know what is causing you pain, discomfort, or anxiety, they will be able to give you a hand no matter the situation.

Write down your questions and prepare beforehand

Planning in advance some of the questions you would like to ask your doctor can help ease your nerves.

 

Dr Leyland, Clinical Advisor at myGP, says that this might be especially true when discussing sensitive topics.  “Consider jotting down a few notes on a piece of paper or on your phone as a reminder. This way, you can read them aloud during your appointment, ensuring you don’t miss anything in the moment. 

 

“If you are still feeling too anxious or embarrassed to share information and ask questions, you can hand the notes to your doctor. They will then be able to read your concerns and find ways to start the conversation.”

 

Be honest about your feelings

Are you feeling nervous? Does talking about a specific condition cause you a sense of embarrassment? Before you jump into the details, don’t be afraid to let your doctor know how you feel. This alone can help calm the nerves!

What’s more, it can indicate to your clinician that they should prepare for a topic that makes you uncomfortable. This will help them break the ice and guide the conversation better, whether it’s by choosing digestible terminology or showing pictures to explain things more effectively.

Bring along someone you trust

Tackling sensitive issues with someone you trust can offer you that extra confidence and support you need.

If you need to open up a conversation about a condition that affects your intimate sphere, you may want to bring along your partner to the clinic. The truth is that you may feel more relaxed broaching a specific topic if you have someone who cares for you by your side.

Additionally, with somebody else in the room, it may be easier to keep the conversation rolling. Not to mention that, as your GP describes potential causes and solutions to your condition, a second set of ears can help you remember all the information you’ve been given.

Arrange a virtual appointment

Finally, why not make the most of technology? If you don’t feel comfortable attending a doctor’s appointment at the clinic or in a hospital, try asking for a virtual visit instead.

If you have to bring up a tough conversation, you may find it less daunting to have a sensitive discussion in an environment that you’re familiar with.

So if the idea of chatting about an ‘embarrassing’ condition at home sounds more bearable, make sure to get in touch with your doctor. Where possible, they will be happy to schedule the right appointment for your needs.

Mandy Kloppers
Author: Mandy Kloppers

Mandy is a qualified therapist who treats depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, trauma, and many other types of mental health issues. She provides online therapy around the world for those needing support and also provides relationship counselling.