How to discuss uncomfortable topics with your doctor
Explain symptoms -- no matter how embarrassing
It’s easy enough to tell your doctor about how you lost a few extra pounds as recommended or that you’ve been taking your medication regularly. But there are plenty of topics that aren’t so pleasant to bring up. An itch or rash “down there,” something you’ve seen after a bowel movement or some type of sexual dysfunction.
“People may feel embarrassed by something they’ve seen or felt and feel like they might be judged for what is happening,” said Susan A. Werner, M.D. “But in reality, explaining symptoms or problems, no matter how embarrassing, is key to getting good care.”
Often, patients don’t want to talk about a sensitive or embarrassing issue because they are afraid that the doctor will find a problem. However, turning to a medical professional for help sooner, rather than later, can help you uncover problems early and give you the best possible chance of a good outcome.
“If you put off talking to your doctor about the fact that you think you might have a sexually transmitted infection, for example, you could end up with a more serious health problem down the road—not to mention the fact that you could spread it to others in the interim,” said Dr. Werner. “The bottom line is that your doctor has heard it all before and is trained to handle your health issues in confidence.”
Here are some pointers on preparing for your doctor’s appointment.
Make notes of your symptoms
Before your doctor’s appointment, take some time to jot down the symptoms you’re experiencing and when, or the circumstances under which you experience them. This can help your doctor properly diagnose you, as well as help you explain your symptoms if you feel you might freeze up.
“If you know you’ll be nervous in the examination room, bring a list of symptoms so you don’t leave something out,” said Dr. Werner. “The more information you can share with us, the better.”
Explain it in your own terms
It’s easy to get caught up feeling like you don’t know the precise medical terminology when you’re explaining a problem, especially if it’s something you’d rather not discuss.
However, you should explain it in terms that make sense to you. Your doctor will understand, and may ask some follow-up questions to clarify. Describing your symptoms and how often you feel them is the best way to point your doctor in the right direction.
Let your doctor know it’s a sensitive subject
Part of being open and up front is to let your doctor know it’s a difficult topic for you to discuss. This will signal them to be thoughtful in their response.
Be honest and ask questions
During a doctor visit it’s also important to answer questions your doctor or nurse asks, such as which medications you’re taking; if you smoke, drink or do drugs; or whether you are sexually active or engage in unprotected sex.
Likewise, if you don’t understand what your doctor is saying, stop them and ask a follow-up question. You may also consider taking notes.
“Doctors often have brochures or literature about specific diagnoses or treatment options for all sorts of problems. If you don’t take notes during your visit, ask your doctor for more information about your diagnosis,” said Dr. Werner.
Susan A. Werner, M.D., is a primary care physician at Geisinger Nanticoke. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Werner or another primary care physician, please call 570-258-1304 or visit Geisinger.org.