We all have “those kind” of health questions. You know the ones.
They may seem too embarrassing or too silly to ask a doctor or nurse. Or maybe it’s not embarrassment, but something stronger—like shame, or fear—that keeps us from asking.
But try as we might to push them away, these questions keep coming back. Sometimes, not having the answer may have us worried over nothing. Sometimes, not knowing may be putting us at risk.
So first of all: Ask. Ask your doctor anything. And if you can’t ask your doctor anything, you might want to ask yourself why not—and whether you might be better off choosing a new one.
In the meantime, here are some of “those questions” women want answers to. And if you don’t find the answer you’re looking for, let us know!
Why do I pee when I laugh? Or cough, or run?
The most common reason is known as stress incontinence. Not because it’s related to mental stress, but because it has to do with recent stress on the muscles and connective tissue around the bladder and urethra–which commonly occurs after pregnancy.
Medication doesn’t do anything for stress incontinence, but there’s a simple, natural fix: Kegel exercises, which involve squeezing your pelvic floor muscles. Just sit, stand, or lie with your knees slightly apart, then squeeze the ring of muscle below and behind your pelvis, like you might if you were trying to keep from passing gas. Hold for about eight seconds, rest for about eight seconds, and repeat 8 to 12 times per session.
What’s that fishy smell? Is it coming from me?
According to Shieva Ghofrany, an OB-GYN at Stamford Hospital in Connecticut, women are frequently embarrassed to ask this question, but they shouldn’t be. It has to do with bacterial vaginosis, one of the most common vaginal infections among young women. The infection isn’t dangerous, but you probably want to get it cleared up, so ask your doctor if you need antibiotics or if it will go away on its own.
What’s causing this unwanted hair growth?
Unwanted hair in embarrassing places can be frustrating in a world that portrays idealized images of silky smooth female skin. But contrary to popular belief, female body hair is not simply a matter of testosterone.
The truth is, all women produce some testosterone, typically in smaller amounts than men. How your hair reacts to the testosterone has to do with your hair follicles, your insulin sensitivity, and the balance of other hormones like estrogen and progesterone. That’s why women in perimenopause and menopause are prone to increased hair growth.
If you think you may be experiencing perimenopause or menopause, you can talk to your doctor about treatments that may help with the symptoms.
Why can’t I stop sweating?
Sweating, of course, is perfectly natural—our body’s way of using evaporation to cool itself. What we tend to find embarrassing is excessive sweat or sweat that doesn’t smell so great. If deodorants or antiperspirants aren’t doing the trick, there are factors that can help you control the smell.
If sweating is truly excessive, it may be a sign of more serious health condition: Excessive sweating can be a symptom of diabetes, thyroid problems, and heart and lung disease. There’s also hyperhidrosis, a central nervous dysfunction that causes continual excessive sweating for no obvious reason—usually in the underarms, palms, or feet. If you have it, your doctor may recommend treatments that can help you get it under control.
Should I get genetic testing for cancer or other health risks?
There’s not one easy answer to this question. With current technology, genetic testing gives only imprecise answers about your inherited health risks. It can tell you what might happen, not what will happen. By the same token, a negative result doesn’t mean you have no risk at all.
You may want to consider genetic testing if certain cancers or diseases run in your family. Having positive results for certain health risks can alert you and your doctor so that you can:
- Start cancer screenings earlier
- Get screened more often
- Get tests that are used only for patients at increased risk
- Watch yourself closely for early signs and symptoms
- Educate yourself about options ahead of time, so that you don’t have to make stressful decisions in a hurry
What is postpartum depression, and how do I know if I have it?
Postpartum depression is an intense form of depression that occurs in women after giving birth. It may come on quickly, but sometimes symptoms don’t appear until six months after delivery. Postpartum symptoms may include:
- Depressed mood or severe mood swings
- Excessive crying
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
- Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
- Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
- Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
- Intense irritability and anger
- Fear that you’re not a good mother
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, or inadequacy
- Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate, or make decisions
- Severe anxiety and panic attacks
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
If you recognize your own experience in these symptoms, talk to your doctor, who can recommend resources and treatment to help you through. Untreated, postpartum depression can last for months or even longer, and may pose a risk to your health or that of your child.
My nipples changed color. What’s up with that?
Nipples do change color as women age, usually due to hormonal shifts that come with pregnancy or menopause. If your nipples are pink or light brown, and if they are both the same color, there’s probably nothing to worry about. If they appear to be different colors, or have red or white spots on them, you should see your doctor for a breast exam.
How does a mammogram feel?
The answer really is: It depends. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) it will feel uncomfortable for most women, and may be painful for some. In order to get good views, your breasts are squeezed between two photo plates in various positions. So it all depends on the skill of the technologist, the size of your breasts, and how much they need to be pressed. You may be more sensitive depending on whether you are about to get or are having your period.
You should speak up if you feel pain. Often, the technologist can make adjustments to make you more comfortable. Most women who’ve been through the procedure agree that some discomfort is typical. Because breast cancer treatment is much less invasive—and much more effective—the earlier your cancer is caught, putting up with the discomfort is definitely worth it.