A recent survey of Aussie women has revealed some startling insights into women's health and how stigma and embarrassment see many 'suffer in silence' with common, treatable conditions.
The survey, commissioned by Priceline Pharmacy, asked just over a thousand women aged 18 years and older which health issues were just too awkward to talk about with their friends, let alone a doctor.
Too awkward to ask
Just over 30 per cent — that's one in three — placed gas, bloating or constipation at the top of the 'too awkward' list, ahead of facial acne (20 per cent), excessive sweating, and thrush (both 18 per cent).
Sixteen per cent of women said it's too uncomfortable to have a conversation about incontinence, while 15 per cent said the same about heavy periods. Sensitive skin and body acne were the least awkward health issues, with just 14 per cent and nine per cent of women respectively deeming them embarrassing.
But, as GP and Priceline Pharmacy Health Expert, Dr Preeya Alexander, tells Yahoo Lifestyle, blush-inducing conditions like bloating and thrush are actually incredibly common.
"My goodness, health professionals like pharmacists and GPs see these things all the time," Dr Alexander says.
"Acne, thrush, abdominal symptoms are things I see every day as a GP."
Even though experts like Dr Alexander aren't phased by these health issues, a significant number of women are delaying getting them checked out or putting it off altogether.
Just under 40 per cent of women surveyed admitted to experiencing an uncomfortable condition for 'longer than necessary' because they were too embarrassed to see the doc.
One in five had avoided seeking help altogether or refused to collect medicine from a pharmacy.
In Dr Alexander's opinion, this trend of delaying or avoiding treatment is 'concerning' and can have harmful repercussions.
"If you don’t get things checked, things can potentially progress," she says.
"If you have heavy, painful periods, for instance, it could be due to endometriosis and if you don’t know the diagnosis and discuss it with a health professional you miss out on loads of potential interventions that can reduce disease burden and reduce your symptoms.
"If you don’t seek help for persistent diarrhoea and bloating, then you may be missing a diagnosis of coeliac disease and that can certainly cause issues including vitamin deficiencies and lymphoma of the gut if you leave it undiagnosed and untreated."
Paging Dr Google
Instead of turning to a health professional for help, nearly half (47 per cent) of the surveyed women fired up Google and searched their symptoms.
While it might seem easy and convenient — and way less awkward — to ask 'Dr Google' at the time, Dr Alexander tells Yahoo Lifestyle that it's not the best idea.
"Dr Google is risky! If you start googling symptoms you can start reading all sorts of things without context or someone breaking down the information for you," she says.
"If you google cough you are told it 'could be' lung cancer or tuberculosis when in actual fact for most of us those are unlikely diagnoses. Googling can lead to more anxiety and confusion."
If you're worried about something, Dr Alexander recommends putting those nerves to one side and booking a doctors appointment or speaking to a pharmacist who are, after all, here to help.
"Health professionals, pharmacists and GPs see this stuff all the time, it is the norm for us," she says. "Yours is not the first vaginal discharge of the day and it won’t be the last. We don’t want you to suffer in silence!"
Check before you change
It's also important to get qualified, expert advice before diving into a particular treatment or major lifestyle change as it might do more harm than good.
"A common myth I hear is that excluding food groups will help gut symptoms like bloating," explains Dr Alexander.
"Please speak to a health professional before you start eliminating crucial foods groups like gluten and dairy from your diet without a clear medical reason; you end up missing out on important nutrients without a clear medical reason."
The consequences can be severe. Cutting out gluten without a clear reason or diagnosis, such as coeliac disease, can increase a person's risk of heart disease as they might miss out on important wholegrains. Similarly, ditching dairy products without chatting to a doctor first can significantly impact bone health.
"The key point is, don’t start cutting stuff out from your diet willy nilly," she adds.
"As a GP, if I suspect an intolerance in a condition like IBS for instance, I involve a dietician, an expert to help guide food group removal so it’s done safely."
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