This article was written by on of The Food Medic team; GP – Dr Nirja Joshi
Your GP is a great point of contact to help you with any health concern. It is very common for patients to come to see the GP for reassurance, and this is an important part of what we do. If there is anything which is worrying you, you should absolutely speak to your doctor, and there is no such thing as a silly question or query, if it is bothering you, it is worth asking about!
If your GP is unable to provide all of the answers, they may consult with a specialist, or refer you to someone who has more experience in an area, such as a sexual health clinic.
Remember that all of your consultations and conversations with your doctor are confidential (1). This means that your doctor will not share any information without your permission, unless there is a concern about your safety, or the safety of others around you. Your medical records are also confidential and only accessible to healthcare professionals within your GP surgery.
You can ask to speak to a healthcare professional who you may feel more comfortable with, that may be a practice nurse for example, and if they need to clarify any concerns, they can ask a GP as well. If you would prefer to see for example, a female practitioner, you can request this at reception, and they will accommodate you as best as possible. In addition, if you are able to share with reception staff the nature of the reason for your visit, they will know which practitioner may be most suitable and be aware of special areas of interest of particular staff to ensure you have your questions answered as best as possible
There are some subjects which people can commonly feel uneasy about speaking to their doctor about
1. Sexual health (or issues with sex)
This can be a very common thing which patients are nervous to talk about. For example, men can be quite uneasy talking about their sexual health, particularly about issues with premature ejactulation, or difficulties with erections. These issues could affect as many as 50% of men in their lifetime (2), and hence are very common. The reasons for these issues can vary from very benign issues such as stress to more concerning conditions such as issues with blood flow and diabetes. Hence, it is very important to discuss these issues with your healthcare professional to discuss this in more detail.
Women also often hold back when discussing sex and sexual health – from painful sex to new dischare, we want to hear about it.
2. Your poop
Whether it is a change in your bowel habit, blood in your poo, change in the colour of your stool or pain going to the toilet, it is incredibly important to speak to your doctor. We’ve heard and seen it all and nothing is TMI.
Issues with your bowel could be due to a range of issues from your diet and lifestyle, to inflammatory conditions, or irritable bowel syndrome, or in some cases could represent bowel cancer. It is so important to talk to your doctor so that they can examine you, or organise tests to help to decipher what the diagnosis may be. Find more information on IBD here with some nutrition tips here and more information on bowel cancer here.
GPs and sexual health doctors often see patients with concerns about their genitals. It is important that any lumps or bumps are checked to make sure they don’t represent anything sinister.
We ALL have breast tissue and people of all genders and sexes can get breast cancer. Being breast aware, knowing what is normal for you, and noticing any new changes is the first step in detecting breast cancer in the early stages.
It is important to check your breasts once a month (3). The easiest way to do this is to feel in the shower, you can also look in the mirror to look for any changes. If you are not used to looking/feeling your breasts regularly, it can be harder to notice when something changes. Not every lump represents something sinister, however, if you notice a change, you should visit your doctor to be examined. With nipples, it is important to look out for any unusual discharge/bleeding or inversion of the nipple. During breastfeeding, women often experience issues with their nipples such as cracking or thrush, and it is really important to talk to your midwife, pharmacist or GP as there are treatments available.
5. Menstrual cycle
We have a really useful article on 4 reasons to see your GP about your periods here. Speaking to your doctor about your menstrual cycle doesn’t have to be difficult or embarrassing, but to help your GP, it is useful to keep a menstrual diary of symptoms to help understand the pattern of what might be going on and try and explain to your doctor what you are worried about and treatments which you have tried.
There is often a thought that if you speak about these subjects with your doctor that they might begin to lecture you on the ills of smoking cigarettes for example. Personally, as a GP, this is something which I have stopped doing. I now ask patients how much they smoke, and reassure them that we are available to help them if they wish to cut down or quit. It would be unusual for someone to not know the ills of smoking cigarettes, and the public is really very well informed on this, and hence there is often no benefit in reminding people, but more-so, offering support if they are in the right headspace to want to change this. You can find more information on stop smoking services here (4).
With regards to alcohol, there are many people who use alcohol to cope with stress, and we often see very ‘high-functioning alcoholics. The recommendation is for men and women to consume no more than 14 units of alcohol on an average a week (5). Some people consume alcohol around their jobs, and can easily exceed this. There is a new role in Primary Care in some areas of the country called a Health and Wellbeing coach, and they are well placed to help you with cutting down on alcohol if you wish.
It can be difficult to open a conversation about drug taking behaviour, your GP is unlikely to ask you this routinely unless it is relevant to your condition. You can find more information here and if you are wanting help with drug-related issues, your GP can help you in conjunction with local community drug and alcohol support (6).
7. Your mental health
After the pandemic, mental health is more important than ever. There has been an increase in issues with children’s and adults mental health. Conditions such as depression, anxiety, social phobia and lonlieness are conditions I see each day in clinic. It is incredibly important to speak to your doctor about your mental health, there are lots of resources available to help you with your mental health through the NHS.
Your workplace may also have wellbeing schemes to help with mental health and wellbeing. There is lots of support, both medical and non-medical treatment available to help, and if you speak to your doctor, you can let them know if you’d prefer to not use traditional medicines.
If you are feeling very low, please ensure that you seek help, you can do this via the Samaritans charity at 116 123.
8. Your skin concerns
Having trouble with your skin can cause people to feel self conscious or low in mood. It can also have physical symptoms such as itching/pain which disrupt your daily life. GPs are well versed in skin conditions and may be able to offer you a diagnosis, or treatment. If they are not able to do so, or you have a complex condition, they may refer you to a specialist, called a dermatologist.
9. Or anything you think might be too “silly”
There is no such thing as a silly question for a healthcare professional, in short, if it’s worrying you, it is worth talking about! Remember that there are lots of different people you can talk to, your GP, 111, your pharmacist, a sexual health clinic or your practice nurse are just some suggestions of professionals who you can raise concerns to.
- HealthTalk.org. Seeing the GP: Advice and tips for young people [Internet]. [cited 2022 Jun 9]. Available from: https://healthtalk.org/seeing-gp-advice-and-tips-young-people/confidentiality-when-seeing-the-gp-#:~:text=Appointments%20with%20the%20GP%20are,records%20are%20kept%20completely%20private.
- NHS. Erectile Dysfunction [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2022 Jun 10]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/erection-problems-erectile-dysfunction/
- NHS. How should I check my breasts? [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2022 Jun 8]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/womens-health/how-should-i-check-my-breasts/
- NHS. NHS stop smoking services help you quit [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2022 Jun 6]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/quit-smoking/nhs-stop-smoking-services-help-you-quit/
- NHS. Drink less – better health [Internet]. [cited 2022 Jun 6]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/better-health/drink-less/#:~:text=Alcohol%20guidelines,risk%20of%20harming%20your%20health.
- Talk to frank. Honest information about drugs [Internet]. [cited 2022 Jun 8]. Available from: https://www.talktofrank.com/