The Things You Don’t Tell Your Doctor – But Definitely Should
Our resident medical expert, DR NIKKI STAMP lets us know why you definitely should be giving your doctor too much information.
Going to the doctor is not really anyone’s favourite thing to do. It usually means you’re sick, you’re worried or you’re putting off some sort of unpleasant test you were supposed to have a year ago (pap smear anyone?). If you’re really not keen, you may have even consulted Dr Google, turning your runny nose from a head cold into some sort of strange brain-eating bacteria.
The doctor patient relationship is a confidential one, free from judgement. Doctors are there to listen with a sympathetic ear and help you work through your problems. While that doesn’t mean the embarrassment of talking about your sex life or your bowel motions will completely disappear, it is incredibly important that you know your secrets are not only safe with the doc, but key to getting the best care possible.
Let’s talk about sex
Oh sex, often a source of blushing. Talking to a relative stranger about what goes on between the sheets is awkward – but talking about your sex life is very important for a few reasons. First of all, as we’re often reminded, sexually transmitted infections are still out and about, including HIV and nasty bugs like chlamydia. If you’re getting lucky it’s important to share that information with your doctor, especially if it’s with new partners, your partner has an infection or you went au naturel. You might well get a little reminder of the importance of protecting yourself but generally, we just want to know if we need to talk about testing for some of these nasties.
Don’t forget all the other bits about sex, not just the scary and sometimes itchy things. Planning for a family or planning to not have one are also areas where we doctors can help. We also want to hear if you think your sex life has taken a bit of a dive, especially if you’re feeling down, because this can be a bit of a warning sign to a low mood.
Drinking, smoking and drug taking
Most of us like to blow off steam and in great Australian tradition, this often involves the pub. Most doctors want to know how much you drink as a part of a general health check and now is not the time to be shy. Most people (doctors included) underestimate the amount of alcohol we drink, at least in part because we don’t want to feel naughty for overindulging.
Overindulgence is not the point – telling us what you’re actually drinking is so important. This might be the first time someone points out that perhaps the two cartons on a Saturday is probably pushing the limits a little and we can offer you help to cut back. An accurate estimate of how much you drink is also important to work out how the booze affects a number of other things, including medical problems, how much medicine to give you or how it’s affecting other things in your life like sleep or sex.
The same goes for smoking or other drugs. Again, we would rather you be blunt and tell us how much you smoke or what drugs you like to take. Everything you say is confidential and we won’t be dobbing you in anywhere. Knowing exactly how much smoke or other drugs we’re dealing with allows us to do some specific health checks and help direct you to a way that can help you cut back or quit in the future. Either way, no judgement, we are just here to help.
We all have some interesting family members who make Christmas time (and any other family gatherings) an experience to forget. When you shake most family trees, a few odd characters drop out, but aside from wedding reception anecdotes, doctors really need to know what else is going on in your genes.
A number of diseases show a clustering in families, including cancers, depression, allergies and heart disease. If we know that you have the genetics that predispose you to a certain condition, both you and your doctor can keep your eyes peeled for any issues down the track.
Pills and potions
Nobody is perfect and taking the medications we are prescribed is sometimes a bit of a chore. If you’ve decided to stop taking a medicine altogether or hardly take it at all, shout out. Sometimes, there are very good reasons for this such as side effects or it’s costing too much money. Either way, let us know and we can help out.
Same goes for taking any medications not prescribed for you, like an over the counter tablet (even if it’s just Panadol) or something you’ve got from somewhere else (like Grandma’s stash of oxycodone after her hip replacement). Some of the herbal tablets, over the counter pills or things that you’ve borrowed from someone else not only have side effects that cause symptoms, the drugs and herbs can also interact badly and we need to know which ones in order to fix any issues.
If you’re feeling low
Have you been feeling a little off lately? Not sleeping so well, out of energy and a bit teary? Your doctor (and especially your GP) are a great first start when things are just getting on top of you. Depression, anxiety and other stressors are pretty common these days and your doctor can make sure you get the appropriate help. This goes double if you’re feeling so low,you think you might hurt yourself. Speak up and you can have a shoulder to cry on. We’ve also prepared a practical guide to getting mental health support.
What you’re afraid of
The sore back you’ve had for a few weeks may have gone from a strain to some horrendous flesh eating disease in your mind when you start worrying about it incessantly. Sometimes, just coming out and saying what’s got you freaked out is the best way to get to the bottom of anything that is worrying you. It might be that we can completely alleviate your fears or it may be something we check for to make sure neither of us are missing anything.
A word for when you don’t like your doctor
Just as you don’t like every person you meet daily, you may not necessarily have found a good match with your doctor. A strong therapeutic relationship is very important so if you feel like you’re not really clicking, then you may need to see someone else if possible.
This is also goes for when you have a lot to get through, if you’ve saved up the repeats of scripts you need, plus want to discuss depression and get a pap smear, be sure to ask when you book and appointment that you need a longer one to get through everything.
Ultimately, you and your doctor should form a partnership or a team to keep you as healthy as possible. A consult with a doctor is a confidential process and free from judgement or shame. This only works when we share information both ways. So next time you have to go, be sure to lay it all out there.
Dr Nikki Stamp is a heart surgeon, a champion for women achieving in domains that are traditionally dominated by men and a strong advocate for the importance of self-care and work-life balance. She is an ambassador for #ILookLikeASurgeon