Embarrassing bodies: Questions you’re afraid to ask your doctor

Every day, medical professionals manage a wide range of problems. So there’s no need to feel uncomfortable if you have a delicate issue.

There’s nothing you can show or tell your GP, pharmacist or other health professional that will take make them feel embarrassed.

“We see people with these kinds of problems every day and we’ve been trained to deal with them,” says Dr Natalia Rode, of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.

“We enjoy being able to put a patient’s mind at ease.”

So what are the questions patients are often embarrassed to ask their doctors?

I’m worried about my genitalia

“People are embarrassed to talk about their genitalia,” says Dr Amanda Newman, of Jean Hailes for Women’s Health.

Common concerns include the appearance of the vulva, which refers to the inner and outer lips and opening of the vagina.

“Vulva appearance differs from woman and to woman and changes over time,” adds Dr Newman.

A painful or itchy vulva may be due to tight clothing or irritation from soap. Or it can signal an infection, like candida or thrush.

Around 75 per cent of women have thrush at some time in their life, but it can be treated with medication.

Sex is painful

“If we don’t particularly want to have sex, the vagina and vulva don’t lubricate properly, the vaginal muscles go into spasm and sex is painful,” says Dr Newman.

A pelvic floor physiotherapist can outline exercises to help relax tight pelvic muscles.

After menopause, hormonal changes also lead to vaginal dryness – this can be an issue after childbirth and when breastfeeding, too – but a good-quality lubricant can help.

I’ve got some lumps and bumps

“Lumps and bumps around the genital area or anus can be worrying,” says Dr Rode.

“Many lumps I see are completely normal – they might be an ingrown hair or a mole. Sebaceous cysts are caused by a blocked sebaceous gland – an oil gland in the skin.

“They commonly occur in the vulva and appear as a small, hard lump, which is generally painless.”

These cysts don’t need to be treated unless they cause discomfort.

We see people with these kinds of problems every day and we’ve been trained to deal with them.

I leak when I laugh

“You may leak when you cough or run or laugh – but you are not meant to leak at all,” says Dr Newman.

Around half of women aged 45 to 59 have some mild to severe urinary incontinence.

“See a continence physiotherapist who can show you some pelvic floor exercises and do something about it before it gets worse,” says Dr Newman.

I’ve got a rash down there

‘Jock itch’ is a common fungal infection. It’s a red, scaly, often itchy rash in the groin and upper thigh. It begins in the feet or nails and is spread by scratching or using an infected towel.

It can be treated with an over-the-counter antifungal cream – apply it between your toes if you notice the rash there, too.

“Dry the groin carefully after bathing using a separate towel and don’t wear tight or synthetic clothing,” says Dr Rode.

I think I have an STI

Sexually transmitted infections can present a range of symptoms – chlamydia and gonorrhoea cause a discharge and, for women, untreated chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease.

“Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus – a common virus people come into contact with through having sex,” says Dr Rode.

Look for lumps in the genital area or around the anus. Your GP can prescribe topical medication or use liquid nitrogen to freeze the warts.

Written by Sarah Marinos.