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How to talk about potentially embarrassing issues with your GP

Eloise Elphinstone
GP specialising in women's health

Urinary or bowel incontinence, third or fourth degree tears, pain during sex, prolapse… the list of potentially embarrassing issues that you might need to speak to your GP about after having a birth is a long one. In fact, a recent study by the NCT showed that one third of women suffer incontinence after childbirth, and 38% of those women are too embarrassed to talk about it.

Given the social stigma around these issues, it’s not particularly surprising that women find them difficult to discuss with their GP. Indeed, not all GPs ask the right questions to prompt these discussions, and it can be challenging to bring them up.

But take it from a GP, there’s lots of help out there for you and we truly do want to help you get that support. So please bear in mind that:

  • You are really not alone. There are many women in exactly the same position as you, whatever you’re struggling with. This also means that this probably won’t be the first consultation we’ve had about the issue.
  • As doctors we see all sorts of things all the time. This means that nothing really fazes us and we don’t get embarrassed about the things you might find embarrassing.
  • Everything that we’re told is strictly confidential and nothing leaves the consultation. The only exception to this is if we need to refer you to a specialist, such as a women’s health physiotherapist, in which case we’ll discuss this with you first.

With that said, here are my ten top tips for discussing potentially embarrassing issues with your doctor.

  1. Don’t wait until your six week check-up to discuss this issue as you need some dedicated time where you don’t need to discuss lots of other things too.
  2. Book your appointment with a doctor that you know already and that you feel comfortable with.
  3. If possible, arrange to go to your appointment without your baby or other children. This will make it easier for you to concentrate and speak openly about what you’re struggling with.
  4. Book a double appointment (20 minutes rather than 10 minutes) if possible so that you have enough time to talk through your issue.
  5. If you are nervous, try to tell your doctor how you’re feeling as hopefully they can then put you at ease.
  6. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about your issue, some GP practices now have the ability to send an online query. If not, you can also write down your issue and pass it to the doctor.
  7. Try to be as direct as you possibly can be. Nothing will shock us, so use straightforward language, as this will help us quickly understand the issue so we can get you the help you need.
  8. Don’t worry if you don’t know the right term for something. Just explain as best you can.
  9. If you’ve been experiencing symptoms, try to keep a diary of them in the days leading up to your appointment. The doctor is likely to ask you something like, ‘how often is that happening?’ so knowing the answer for sure will help you get the best possible treatment.
  10. Take a list of questions with you. This means that you won’t forget to ask anything and also can help you ask embarrassing questions, as you’ll simply be reading something out.

Ultimately, GPs are there to help you, and we really do want to help. So take a deep breath, and go for it.