It’s not easy asking your doctor about classically taboo or embarrassing things, but it can mean the difference between identifying a dangerous illness and going untreated. It’s important to be honest and open with a medical professional, and trust that person will honor their pledge not to violate your confidentiality. Above all, it helps to remember that most doctors have already seen exactly what you are presenting or worse — it’s not that big a deal. Here are five important questions to ask:
1. Will you teach me how to check my breasts/testicles for lumps?
Cancers are easier to treat and have higher survival rates the earlier they are found. In the case of testicular cancer, men have a one in 263 chance of developing it in their lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society. With breast cancer, the number is significantly higher, with about one in every eight American women developing the cancer, Breastcancer.org notes. Luckily, there are things we can do to catch the disease early, including periodically feeling the breasts and testicles for lumps. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor to show you how to do it properly — it’s important.
2. Why does this smell funny?
An unusual smell can be a sign that something is wrong with a certain body part, from something as simple as foot fungus to as invasive as a sexually transmitted disease. Bacterial vaginosis smells fishy; a foul-smelling ear can be a sign of a pus-causing infection; and diabetes can make your breath smell like nail polish remover. If something has a weird odor, make sure you ask about it.
3. Why is my pee/poop a strange color?
Everybody poops and everybody pees. Every single day. If you look down into the toilet after flushing and see a weird color or consistency, tell your doctor about it. While the lightness of urine can be related to hydration, darker urine can also signal that something is wrong. The Mayo Clinic notes, for example, that reddish urine could mean bleeding from a urinary tract infection or kidney stones. From the back door, white poop can be a sign of an obstruction in the bile duct and black or bright red poop could be a sign of bleeding. Mention these things to your doctor.
4. Did you remember to wash your hands?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tweeted a reminder on Oct. 17 about how important it is for doctors and other medical professionals to wash their hands. If your doctor comes into the room and you don’t see them wash their hands, say something. Anyone can make a simple mistake and forget a part of their routine, including a doctor. The CDC recommended for shy people to instead “thank them for cleaning their hands if you are uncomfortable asking,” as it will have the same reminding effect.
5. Can I tell you about this recreational drug I used?
When a doctor treats a patient, it’s important for both the diagnosis and the treatment for that doctor to have a complete medical history — that means knowing about any legal or illegal drugs you have taken that could have caused your medical complication or could interfere with your treatment. You won’t be reported and in more extreme circumstances, like being hospitalized with emergency medical symptoms, being honest could save your life. Tell your doctor if you smoke marijuana every now and then or if you just took Adderall so you could focus on studying for your upcoming midterm.