We primp, straighten, curl, shave and deodorize, but our bodies don’t always cooperate as much as we might like. Still, that doesn’t mean you should be embarrassed to talk with your doctor.
Sometimes, women’s health issues are common, everyday annoyances — or they might indicate something more serious. We asked Dr. Gretchen Dietrich to shed light on all things embarrassing. Here are 10 questions you shouldn’t be too shy to ask your doctor.
1. Should I be worried about vaginal discharge?
“All women have vaginal discharge, so it’s totally normal,” said Dr. Dietrich. “But if it’s a change for you or has an odor or strange color, we want to know about it.”
Normal discharge generally appears two weeks before your period and can be clear, light yellow or white, thick or thin and is usually odorless. It can increase if you’re pregnant or taking birth control.
But if it starts to smell, turn green or dark yellow, looks foamy or blood-tinged, makes sex or urination painful or comes with a fever — it’s time to call the doctor.
2. What can I do about menstrual cramps?
“Cramps are pretty common with your periods,” Dr. Dietrich noted. “They’ll often start a day or two before your period and last about two to three days. Ibuprofen can help, and some people like warm baths or heating pads. Exercise can sometimes help, too.”
If the routine goes awry, it could signal something serious — such as ovarian torsions (or “twists”), appendicitis or pelvic inflammatory disease.
“If cramps become more severe, are on just one side or make sex painful, or if you have a fever or chills, call your doctor,” Dietrich recommended. “If the pain starts after your period or worsens during it, we want to know that, too.”
3. Why is my monthly flow heavier than normal?
“What can cause heavy flow are things like fibroids, which are growths inside or outside the uterus,” said Dr. Dietrich. “They’re almost always harmless but can cause pain, enlargement of the pelvic area and bleeding.”
Copper intrauterine devices (IUDs) can also contribute — and in rare cases, heavy periods could indicate uterine cancer. But if you have unusually heavy flow with other symptoms like vertigo, lightheadedness or a racing heart, get help now.
“Call the doctor, or get to urgent care or the emergency room,” Dr. Dietrich urged, adding that these combined symptoms could indicate more severe bleeding.
4. What happened to my sex drive?
“As relationships progress, a woman’s sex drive goes down — and that’s common,” said Dr. Dietrich. “Talking it through with your partner and getting their support is the best thing to do.”
Medications for depression, anxiety or high blood pressure can impact libido, as can stress, fatigue, menopause or substance abuse. Treatment is specific to which factor caused the problem.
“Having an active sex life is a normal part of being human, and people should be able to enjoy it,” Dietrich emphasized. “So if something is different or wrong, talk to us. We’ll do our best to help.”
5. How can I prevent razor burn on my bikini area?
This one’s pretty simple: Shave with a new, sharp razor in the direction of the hair growth — but wait until the end of your shower, once the warm water softens your skin.
6. How do I stop sweating so much?
“Try clinical-strength antiperspirants available over the counter, as they’re similar to those by prescription only,” suggested Dr. Dietrich. “You can also use absorbent or wicking clothing and try to avoid synthetic fabrics that keep sweat in.”
As a final resort, patients might see a dermatologist for Botox in the affected areas (most likely the underarms). But if you’ve never been a sweater and suddenly start drenching clothes, something could be amiss with your endocrine system, so discuss with your doctor.
7. Should I be worried about uneven breasts?
No two breasts are the same, even if they’re on the same woman.
“You shouldn’t worry about uneven breasts, unless they’re severely uneven, and then we can talk about surgical correction,” said Dr. Dietrich. “But if a woman experiences any changes in her breasts, such as new nipple discharge, if the nipples look different, if there’s new pain, a lump or if anything is different, it needs to be checked out.”
Remember that your breasts change during pregnancy, so ask your obstetrician what to expect.
8. How can I stop wetting myself when laughing?
Try kegels. When done properly, these pelvic floor exercises help to strengthen your lower body and control urinary incontinence (a common byproduct of having kids or aging). Start with this tutorial from the American Pregnancy Association.
9. Why am I getting urinary tract infections?
If you’re not already peeing after sex, make that a habit. You should also avoid spermicide, drink plenty of water and make sure to wipe from front to back when using the restroom.
“And if you have several UTIs throughout the year, we can talk about antibiotics — either daily antibiotics or antibiotics just after sex,” said Dr. Dietrich.
10. Can you remove this _______ from my _______?
“If you have a retained foreign object, such as a tampon or condom, we can help with that,” Dietrich says. “I would rather you come to me than sit at home and worry.”
The key takeaway? When in doubt, bring it up with your doctor. Chances are they’ve heard it before and will be a whole lot less shocked than you think.
“If something’s different, and you just don’t feel right, call your doctor,” Dr. Dietrich exhorts. “We’re trained in these things — we see them every day — so what may be embarrassing for you probably isn’t for us.”
Do you have a women’s health question? Find a doctor near you to talk about the embarrassing stuff.