Click over to the history tab in your browser and scan what's there. We're going to bet there's at least one semi-embarrassing health question you've been trying to get to the bottom of, but would never breathe a word about to your doctor.
Before you bite your tongue, remember this: "Hey, Doc, my rectum's really itchy" is not an easy thing to utter, but her answer is going to be a lot more reassuring (and a lot more reliable) than Dr. Google. (If you are self-diagnosing, follow these three safe steps.)
To help you save time (and face), we canvassed doctors across America about common embarrassing symptoms and guess what? None of them flinched. They also had some fascinating clues as to what might be causing them—and what you can do about it. Here, 15 strange symptoms you'd rather not talk about—explained.
|Why don't I have orgasms?|
For women in particular, I think a really important thing if they've never had an orgasm before is self-exploration. So if they've never looked at or touched their genitals, it's really important to be familiar with your own body and know what you like in terms of pleasure before anybody else is going to be able to pleasure you.
Another thing is communication with your partner. Communicate with your partner about what you do like, if you've already discovered that. You have to be able to sexually communicate with one another. Because they shouldn't necessarily already know what to do with your body. Look, there are lots and lots of sexually active women who have never touched their own genitals before. And it's very important to explore your own body."
–Dr. Kristen Mark, behavioral health scientist, PhD and professor at the University of Kentucky 40 Things You Should Know About Sex by Age 40
|Why do I pee when I run?|
Exercise-induced incontinence is not uncommon in women, and it's usually caused by one of two factors.
Stress incontinence occurs when the pressure inside the abdomen exceeds the resistance at the neck of the bladder (for example: if the urethral sphincter muscle doesn't close with enough force). Running or other strenuous physical exercise could cause this increase in abdominal pressure and subsequent urinary leakage.
The other main reason is bladder overactivity, where the muscles of the wall of the bladder squeeze when they should be relaxed (during bladder filling). This gives people a sense of urgency, and may cause them to leak urine.
If you're experiencing urine leakage with running or other physical exercise, I encourage you to seek help from a urologist or your primary health care provider.
–Tomas L. Griebling, MD, professor and vice-chair of urology at the University of Kansas
|My thighs chafe when I walk. What's up?|
Well, chafing is the irritation of the skin from chronic rubbing of skin on skin. And it's totally typical to chafe between the thighs. Chafing is not only associated with repetitive movements from exercise, but also everyday activities—especially in patients who are overweight. The ultimate cure for chafing that you get from everyday activities is weight loss because that removes that element of skin rubbing.
In extreme cases of chafing, you can use topical anti-inflammatory medications. A hydrocortisone 1 percent cream is a good place for people to start. It's available over the counter and it's inexpensive. You should limit use to no more than two weeks, though, because long-term use of cortisones can result in thinning of the skin. The cortisones work by reducing inflammation from the chafing. But the separate issue has to do with disruption of the skin barrier itself. That can be treated with moisturizing creams and skin protectants, such as zinc-containing creams. These are the same type of creams that we use on the bottoms of babies during diaper changes.
–Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in the dermatology department at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City
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|Why do I have tons of skin tags?|
We don't totally understand why people develop them, but we know that they're more common in patients who are overweight or obese. So first of all, these are harmless spots for the most part, but in cases when they get large and irritated—if they start getting stuck in jewelry or they start to bleed—then they should be treated.
Unfortunately, insurance companies do not cover removal of skin tags, as they are considered cosmetic. So it's an out-of-pocket procedure and the cost ranges anywhere from $100 to $500 per session, depending on the number of skin tags that you have and who you're being treated by. Small tags can be cauterized away and larger tags can be snipped off.
|Why do my feet stink?|
Smelly feet are most often caused when the feet sweat. Even when your feet aren't sweating, there's a bacteria on your body called normal skin flora—and your feet certainly have its choice of normal skin flora! Once you sweat it kind of triggers this bacteria, and the bacteria can give off odors. The different types of bacteria can give off different types of odors, which is why some people's feet might stink differently. It can make things worse if you wear a nylon sock that doesn't absorb sweat and causes more sweating.
The thing that I find most effective—especially for people who have very sweaty feet, which is a condition that we call hyperhidrosis—is the use of an antiperspirant on your feet. (Or this DIY pedicure?) Same stuff you would use under your arms! You can roll it on, spray it on, whatever. Some people just have it really bad. Certain people just have smellier feet and that's all there is to it.
–Cary M. Zinkin, MD, podiatric sports physician and spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association.
|Why does running give me the runs?|
Do your best to evacuate your bowels before you take that trek into the unpredictable world of running and bowel expectations. I had a route that I ran many years ago. It was an out-and-back run along a beautiful old trail. If you got out five miles you had to get back five miles. Well, it was inevitably at about mile seven when the bowels would hit and now you've got this precarious three miles more to get home. So it's that urge at very, very inopportune times!
Ideally, as I said, you want to evacuate the bowels before you ever start out. And if you have the proper timing to stimulate the bowels, then by all means do so. In other words, if you drink something in advance of your run—coffee, tea, or apple juice, say, two hours before—you may be able to initiate a reflex to start that peristaltic movement from top to bottom and get the bowels to be able to move before you head out the door.
–Stephen Simons, MD, sports medicine director at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Mishawaka, Indiana
If it's been a long time since you had any fun while exercising, check out these 5 Fun Fat-Blasting Workouts.
|Is it normal to have lots of earwax?|
It's just a wax buildup, which is not unusual. What can be done for that is what we call an ear canal or ear wax maintenance program.
Hydrogen peroxide is a great way to hopefully prevent these huge balls of wax falling out of your ears. We usually tell people just straight up regular hydrogen peroxide like you put on cuts—five drops in the ear canal maybe once a week or so. Just a simple maintenance regimen. A lot of times that will help the ear from producing a large amount of earwax. It helps dissolve it and keeps the ear canal open. Also what helps honestly is possibly seeing an ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT) on a semi-regular basis. We see a lot of people every six months for earwax removal. So, a regimen of, say, hydrogen peroxide on a weekly basis and then maybe even seeing an ENT every now and again to clean out anything that the hydrogen peroxide doesn't resolve.
–Anthony J. Cornetta, MD, otolaryngologist at Huntington Medical Group in New York
|I have a lot of boogers in my nose.|
We see a lot of people with this, especially in the winter. It's essentially the nose drying out. A humidifier is a good start. Here, it's another type of maintenance program similar to the ears.
Other than a humidifier, there are two other things that can really help. Saline spray once or twice a day. It's available over the counter. You could also try using a little saline gel within the nostril. It's like the spray but in gel form. You can just put a little bit on a q-tip or on your pinkie and just put it right in the nostril. That will moisturize it so it's not feeling dry and crusty.
|Why am I so bloated?|
It's a common symptom to be bloated, and most bloating is totally benign, other than being annoying and uncomfortable. It often comes from eating foods that tend to produce gas—the ones we all know and love which probably generate other embarrassing symptoms—swallowing air because you ate too fast, or a post-nasal drip. The trap is that a lot of things that are more serious can also cause bloating. It's the issue of zebras have four legs, but if you see a four-legged animal it's more likely to be a dog or a horse than a zebra.
Bloating in a healthy person without anything going on is more likely from one of the aforementioned things. This unexplained bloating can be a symptom of ovarian cancer, but I think most people who have bloating don't have ovarian cancer. It's certainly worth raising with your doctor that you're having bloating, especially if you've eliminated the things I've mentioned.
–Dr. Yul Ejnes, general internist and immediate past chair of the board of regents at American College of Physicians
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|Is it weird that I don't always ejaculate?|
A lot of the time the inability to ejaculate has to do with the mind. It's about getting your mind to cooperate with the activity that you're engaging in. So, being in the moment and making sure that you're actually being mindful of the activity that you're engaging in is going to help a lot with being able to reach orgasm or ejaculate.
Sometimes men will get distracted or be thinking about other things. I feel like that often gets attributed to women, but it happens just as often in men. If it's a very chronic problem that's been happening for a long time it can become really frustrating—especially if you're trying to get pregnant—and you're going to want to ask your physician. Tell them that it's been a problem that seems to be not just situational but ongoing.
|What causes my hands to swell when I eat salty food?|
Certainly if you take on added salt in your food, your body may retain extra fluid and that fluid will disperse itself to your tissues, including your hands. It doesn't mean anything serious. It's just a physiological effect of the added salt load. I'm not sure how the ice cream would do that. But, yeah, I've had patients complain of their hands swelling under certain circumstances.
If it's something that happens in a circumstance like this: in terms of certain foods or if you notice it in hot weather or had your arms hanging for awhile where gravity is basically pushing the fluid down, those things don't tend to be terribly serious. If your hands swell along with the rest of your body or if you're having trouble breathing, then that raises it to a level where at least it should get checked. The other issue is if your hands swell after you eat salty food, don't eat salty foods!
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|What's with my profuse sweating?|
Well, it's a big question! And the definition of what exactly "sweating profusely" is plays into it. Some people just don't want to sweat at all. They think sweating is a sign of poor hygiene or showing that you're stressed all the time.
The purpose of sweating is to cool the body and when the sweat glands secrete moisture, mostly water, to the surface and it evaporates that cools the body. The question I ask is, does this [heavy] sweating happen every day regardless of whether you're exercising, whether you're stressed, whether you're physically active, whether it's hot or cold outside? Is it the kind that happens at night when you're sleeping, or is it the kind that seems to happen as a reaction to events, like giving a presentation? Answers to all of those questions dictate whether this is a person who might have a disorder called hyperhidrosis or whether they're just a 'heavy sweater,' which would lead to different treatments.
Hyperhidrosis is an abnormal stimulation of the sweat glands from the sympathetic nervous system. If somebody has hyperhidrosis, the switch that turns on the glands is stuck in the 'on' position. That's a disorder which of course there is treatment for.
–Dr. David Pariser, professor of dermatology at the Eastern Virginia medical school and board member of International Hyperhidrosis Society
|My rectum itches. Help?|
It's a very common problem and it is almost never related to something serious. Honestly, 95 percent of it is idiopathic, meaning that we don't know what the actual cause is. So 95 percent of the time patients have this symptom, the exam is fairly unremarkable and yet the itching drives them crazy!
It's pretty easily treated with some topical creams and changing the way people cleanse. But many people overzealously clean the area thinking that the problem is they're not clean enough and they can injure their skin and sort of rub it off. The overconsumption of some items can actually contribute to this itching. Reportedly the top three are beer, coffee, or tomato sauce. I have to tell you that in the 15 years that I've practiced, I've seen one patient who overindulged in something and that was the cause. Everybody else, we just don't know why! People are always worried that they have cancer. The chances that someone would present [rectal] itching as a sign of cancer has got to be infinitesimally small.
–Dr. Deborah Nagle, MD and council member at American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons
|Why is my groin sore after sex?|
If you have tight muscles in the groin, which would be the abductor muscles, you could work on strength by squeezing a basketball or a soccer ball between the knees, you know 30 to 40 times a few days a week. And then you can work on the stretching by doing lunge stretches. The abductors are generally reasonably strong. They can get a little tight, but most women's pelvis alignment or structure allows for pretty good external rotation and abduction.
Some people have groin pain because their hips don't have a good range of motion. It's in the traditional missionary position that we put pressure on the hips and could cause this pain. I'd suggest that if stretching and strengthening doesn't make any difference you might want to have your hips checked with your physician next time you go in. You could also try alternate positions. Like I tell my kids when they bang their head against the wall, 'It hurts less if you don't do it.' Try another position."
–Dr. William O. Roberts, a physician with the American College of Sports Medicine
|Why is my stomach growling so loud?|
It's a very vague symptom which could represent something from the benign to the not-so-benign. It can be something as subtle as lactose intolerance and food intolerance to something more serious like inflammatory bowel disease or Crohn's disease. It's opening a can of worms, particularly with the abdomen the symptoms [growling] tend to be a little bit less specific and so that requires a little more investigation and history on it. It honestly could represent a lot of different things. It could be something as benign as drinking too much soda or swallowing too much air when you eat to other things with far more implications.
Celiac disease, the gluten allergy, has become a big buzz thing because it was very underdiagnosed. And because there's no standard symptoms [for Celiac], people can present it in very different ways: bloating and gas and all those sort of things are common presentation. If the growling is that loud, that discomforting, and lasts for more than just a day or so, it behooves someone to look into it further. It could be nearly anything.
–Dr. Murray Orbuch, assistant clinical professor of gastroenterology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City