Many of us tend to have a ‘keep calm and carry on’ attitude when it comes to our health, treating a trip to the doctor as the last resort. In fact, some of us would far rather soldier on than actually make an appointment and bother a medical professional about our symptoms. Especially if it’s something we don’t feel that comfortable talking about.
But the more open and honest you are with your doctor, the easier it is for them to effectively treat you, letting you get on with your life. So we spoke to three GPs – Dr Hilary Jones, Dr Roger Henderson and Dr Ellie Cannon – to find out what they wish their patients would talk to them about and why.
1. If your bowel habits change
‘There is no absolute “correct” number of times your bowels should open – normal can be anything from three times a day to twice a week – so what is normal for you is fine,’ says Dr Henderson.
‘But if this changes and remains altered (such as becoming constipated or having diarrhoea) then tell your doctor. This is especially important too if you have any bleeding from the back passage, pain in the abdomen, or you are losing weight, as these can be signs of problems in the bowel such as inflammation or malignancy.’
Dr Cannon also stresses the importance of letting your doctor know if you notice a persistent change in bowel habits i.e. the symptoms have lasted for more than three or four weeks.
‘It’s usually a temporary thing relating to digestion or a change in food, or even a change in climate or hydration levels. But because it can be the sign of something very important then doctors always do want to hear about it,’ she says.
Dr Jones adds: ‘Discussing your toilet habits can feel awkward, but changes to your bowel movements can indicate a number of health problems that may need to be investigated further. So, if you’re constipated, experiencing diarrhoea, or both, please do bring it up with your GP. We won’t bat an eyelid, there’s nothing we haven’t discussed before.’
2. If you’re losing weight unexpectedly
‘Unexplained weight loss, especially over 50, is always really important to speak to the doctor about,’ says Dr Cannon. ‘Most people find at that age that their metabolism is slowing down and they’re actually putting weight on and getting middle age spread, particularly women after the menopause. But if you’re losing weight and you can’t explain it, that could be a sign of something more serious.’
3. If you experience bladder leaks
‘Many patients feel uncomfortable talking to their GP about intimate health concerns like bladder weakness,’ says Dr Jones. ‘What many don’t know is just how common some of these health issues are. Talking to a doctor about your experience of bladder weakness will ensure you get the correct diagnosis, the right advice and the right product for your needs.’
4. If you’re having problems sleeping
‘Whether it’s a disturbed night’s sleep after a stressful day at work or difficulties dropping off, many patients will disregard sleep issues as something ‘that will pass’ or a factor of ageing,’ explains Dr Jones.
‘But sleep is vital for general health and wellbeing, so any problems you are having shouldn’t be overlooked. Try keeping a sleep diary for the week preceding your GP appointment. This will ensure you don’t forget anything and will give your doctor a good base for providing advice.’
Related: Eat these 4 foods for better sleep
5. If you feel anxious, stressed or depressed
‘Feeling down in the dumps from time to time is normal, and often it can be difficult to distinguish between a low mood and something more serious,’ adds Dr Jones.
‘Worrying about wasting their doctor’s time is one of the main reasons why patients do not discuss their mental health. Admitting that something is not quite right is the first step to getting the help you need, so if your blues are starting to disrupt your day-to-day life, it’s time to schedule an appointment. Your GP will be able to discuss all of the options available to help and support you.’
6. If you’re having problems with your sex life
There are three things your doctor’s interested in when it comes to your sex life: loss of libido, erectile dysfunction and if you’re experiencing any discomfort during or after sex. There’s no such thing as a ‘normal’ sex drive, but if you are experiencing a sustained loss of libido, speak to your doctor as there could be an underlying health problem.
‘A loss of libido can be a sign of thyroid disease which is more common in women, but it can also be a cardinal symptom of depression,’ says Dr Cannon. She continues:
‘From the physical side of relationships, erectile dysfunction is a really important thing to talk to a doctor about because it could be a sign of diabetes and of course it’s something that is related to mood and self-esteem, so it’s really important to have a conversation about it. For women, discomfort having sex – either because of vaginal dryness or bleeding after sex – are all really important symptoms to speak to your doctor about.’
7. If you’re always tired
While feeling more tired can be a natural result of the ageing process, if you’re feeling tired all the time, it’s worth speaking to your doctor about it. ‘This is one of the common reasons people go to their doctor and there are many causes for this including diabetes, anaemia, thyroid problems, low mood, sleep problems and liver or kidney problems,’ says Dr Henderson.
‘Your doctor can arrange some simple tests to see what the cause is as well as advise about lifestyle tips such as stopping smoking, coping better with stress, drinking less, losing weight and eating healthily.’
8. If you have an unhealthy lifestyle
‘Many patients still feel the need to hide unhealthy habits from their GP. Sometimes this can be down to embarrassment, but it can also be a reluctance to make lifestyle changes. Remember, whilst your doctor may give you advice about making small changes, we are not there to judge or lecture. It’s completely up to you whether you take this on board or not,’ says Dr Jones.
When talking about lifestyle – your diet, how much you exercise, how much alcohol you drink, whether you smoke – Dr Cannon agrees: ‘It’s important to be honest, otherwise we can’t make proper risk assessments. If you’ve actually taken the time and the courage to get yourself over to the doctors surgery, you might as well get the proper assessment done. It’s always worth being honest – there’s no judgement.’
She adds: ‘Anyway, doctors are very well aware of their patients’ habits and it’s normally quite obvious if someone is exercising and what they’re eating, so it’s best to have that open dialogue because that’s what’s therapeutic at the end of the day.’
From: Good Housekeeping UK