Judgment-free zone
Why honesty with your doctor is the best policy, even if it’s embarrassing

There are just some things that people don’t want to talk about, even with their doctor. Steven Benaderet, MD, warns that keeping certain issues from your doctor because you’re embarrassed may be detrimental to your health. He offers tips for having an honest talk with your provider.

Admit it. There are just some things you don’t want to talk about…even with your doctor. While keeping potentially embarrassing things to yourself may spare you a bit of awkwardness, doing so comes at the cost of your personal health. People may be hesitant to talk about certain health issues for a number of reasons but the most common reason is the fear that others will look down on them, according to Steven Benaderet, MD, family medicine specialist with Northeast Medical Group in Westport.

“We are most embarrassed to talk about the things we think reflect poorly on us,” he explained. “What we don’t realize is that, hiding social issues from your doctor, hiding medical issues like drinking or drug use, or mental health issues ultimately allows those issues to continue without help, without a plan for care. Withholding information is extremely detrimental to your health.”

What health issues do patients keep from their doctors? Dr. Benaderet said the answers may surprise you. Hint: It isn’t anything illegal. 

“For some people, talking about their use of – or possible addiction to -- alcohol or tobacco can make people feel uncomfortable. They’re not breaking any laws, but they are impairing their ability to be their best selves,” he noted.

 “What I see most in my practice are things like mental health issues,” he said. “People don’t want to seem like they’re depressed or anxious because they internalize that as a lack of strength. I remind them that confronting those concerns is the ultimate show of strength.” 

Patients need to know that by being direct and honest about an embarrassing issue helps resolve the problem faster. 

“Doctors are really good at identifying the most important things, reserving judgment and understanding that what patients may consider embarrassing are medical issues and treatable,” Dr. Benaderet added. “That up-front, open dialogue is vital to a patient’s overall health, both physically and emotionally.” 

That concern for the patient’s mental and physical health is why Dr. Benaderet fosters an environment that he hopes makes everyone in his exam room feel comfortable. 

“I think we create an environment in our office where people feel that they can talk about those issues,” he added. “Sometimes they need to work up to it. On the way out they’ll say, ‘You know this was good visit, but I’ve got one more thing.’ That’s often the time we find out about those potentially embarrassing things. When that happens, that’s a win for the doctor.” 

Building up the courage to have a frank discussion can be easier said than done. Dr. Benaderet recommends the following tips to help patients broach difficult topics:

Write it down – Write down all of your problems. It doesn’t matter if you have a rash on your elbow, or you may be experiencing symptoms of depression, once you have your issues in writing, they just become part of the list. This way, any potentially embarrassing issues are just another problem rather than this glaring problem.

Use a story –Tell your doctor about a similar issue you saw on television. That can trigger a frank conversation because you’re discussing a fictional character, not yourself.

A group effort – Include yourself in a group of people who have a similar problem. Tell your doctor that you know someone who had an issue that their doctor was able to help them with, and now you are experiencing the same thing. Sometimes when you associate yourself with others who have the same concerns, you don’t feel quite as alone or isolated. 

Ask, then listen – Use the opportunity you have in front of your doctor to say, ‘Is this a good time to discuss mental health issues in general?’ Allow the doctor to help you bring that conversation out. Rather than going right to your specific problem, you can discuss mental health, addiction or any other embarrassing issues in broad terms.

Area residents are only a few clicks away from NEMG’s more than 800 medical experts, all of whom are prepared to discuss your issues with respect. Visit the Find-a-Doctor feature on our website.

Embarrassing topics

Seven of the most common things patients are embarrassed to discuss with their doctors according to Dr. Benaderet:

  • - Excessive body odor
  • - Sexual issues
  • - Bad gas
  • - Excessive sweating
  • - Substance abuse
  • - Halitosis (bad breath)
  • - Mental health issues