For many health issues – broken bones, joint pain, chronic headaches – women typically don’t hesitate to go to the doctor. But for other conditions, the embarrassment of sharing the not-so-pretty details of their health problems, especially those urological in nature, may keep them at home.
Not only does this silence make it difficult, if not impossible, for a physician to offer an effective treatment plan, it could put the patient’s life at risk. Some symptoms that women consider embarrassing can be signs of serious heath issues.
Some indicators that could be evidence of something far worse than just embarrassment include:
- Passing air or stool in urine
- Frequent or painful urination
- Blood in urine
- Post menopausal vaginal bleeding
- Stress incontinence
- Pain with sex
These could be symptoms of a number of serious health conditions including interstitial cystitis, a urinary tract infection, ovarian cancer, bladder cancer, endometrial cancer or a fistula between bowel and bladder.
A common issue women are ashamed to discuss is urinary incontinence. Women can be embarrassed to share that they suffer from an involuntary loss of urine and those who do often minimize the symptoms and the impact they have on quality of life.
Patients are even more hesitant to discuss fecal incontinence. It’s hard enough to discuss urine leakage, but when it comes to bowel leakage, most people are mortified! Knowing you suffer from one or both of these issues allows the physician to determine the best treatment. For example, Interstim, a treatment option for urge urinary incontinence, is also a treatment for fecal incontinence. If a patient discloses she has both conditions, the doctor is more likely to suggest Interstim as a therapy early on. On the other hand, if a patient doesn’t mention fecal incontinence due to embarrassment, Interstim may not be offered unless other less invasive therapies have failed to address urinary incontinence.
Honest and direct communication benefits both the patient and the physician. Talking about urological issues can be embarrassing but patients need to know they are not alone. Millions of women suffer from urinary incontinence and it’s unlikely that any embarrassing issue you may be facing is something your physician hasn’t dealt with before.
To help facilitate the conversation, I would encourage patients to write down symptoms before their visit. We also provide a bladder diary on our website that patients can fill out prior to their appointments. That can really help urologists understand the severity of the problem. It can also help patients better understand the problem so they have an easier time describing their symptoms.
If there is one person with whom you shouldn’t be timid or bashful, it is your doctor. Sharing the details – even the embarrassing ones – allows for more specific treatment options, can eliminate unnecessary procedures and could just save your life.