5 health concerns that might feel embarrassing — but shouldn't

Don’t be shy. Many awkward symptoms are very common and easily treated. You just need to speak up.

Doctor talking to a patient.

Remember when an acne breakout made your teenage self feel like hiding under the covers all day? Fast forward to adulthood, and many health-related problems can prompt the same reaction.

Dribbles and leaks. Energy levels that take a nosedive before noon. Constipation. Some days it’s just too much to think about, let alone discuss openly. 

But these are exactly the types of health issues your doctor wants to hear about, because they really do impact your quality of life. Plus, brushing aside sensitive concerns today could lead to bigger overall health problems in the future.

Whether you’re dealing with one of the problems described below or there’s another concern you’ve been keeping quiet about, remember these three truths:

  1. Countless people are wrestling with the same thing you are.
  2. Doctors have heard it all before.
  3. You deserve to get the help you need.

Ready to stop suffering in silence? Here are five common health concerns your doctor needs to know about.

1. Urinary Incontinence 

Why It Happens: Both men and women can experience urinary incontinence, often for different reasons.

In women, weakened pelvic muscles and the physical effects of menopause are often the cause of the untimely leaks. For men, an enlarged prostate or prostate surgery is most often to blame. 

But a few other factors could be at play: obesity, urinary tract infections, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

What to Do About It: Just ignoring the leaks or sudden urges to go is no solution. The problem will keep interfering with your everyday life.

Let your doctor know about any bladder control changes you’ve noticed. By talking openly and honestly, you help them gain a more complete picture of your overall well-being. 

Your doctor can help you manage the problem with lifestyle changes. These might include avoiding caffeine, soda, alcohol and spicy foods, which can irritate the bladder. Cutting back on water before bedtime may help with nighttime accidents, according to the National Association of Continence.

Bladder training exercises are another option. These exercises can help you regain control of your ability to hold it in until you’re ready to go. If those steps don’t help, your doctor may also suggest medication or surgery.

2. Energy Drain

Why It Happens: Does it seem like you only have a few productive hours in a day and the rest of the time you feel completely spent? Sleep problems or anxiety may be to blame, suggests the National Institute on Aging (NIA).

Or you could be missing out on some much-needed exercise. The loss of energy tied to aging is caused in large part by not getting enough physical activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, by age 75, about a third of men and half of women don’t engage in any physical activity.

Sometimes fatigue is a side effect of a new medication. It also can be an early sign that something more serious is developing. Or you just might be bored, the NIA suggests.

What to Do About It: If you find yourself constantly drained, it’s time to be honest with your doctor. Talk about your daily physical activity, your sleep habits, how you fill your days, as well as your worries and fears. After ruling out any medical problem, the doctor may recommend lifestyle changes for a better night’s rest. 

As for physical activity, remember that everything from walking to the mailbox to cleaning the house counts. Start thinking more in terms of “movement” rather than traditional exercise. 

Even 10-minute bursts of movement — taking the stairs, pulling weeds, walking the dog — will challenge your muscles. Bonus: You might feel better both physically and mentally as a result of that movement.

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3. Slips, Trips and Other Close Calls

Why They Happen: No, you didn’t suddenly grow two left feet when you hit your 60s. But getting older does put you at a greater risk for falls, the NIA warns. 

The list of possible reasons is fairly long — physical changes, health conditions, medications, hearing loss, vision problems and diminished reaction time. But falling doesn’t have to be part of aging.

What to Do About Them: Tell your doctor about any falls you’ve had in the past 12 months (or since your last visit) and mention any increases in tripping or stumbling. 

Also, bring up any changes you’ve noticed in your ability to balance. Your doctor may check for vision or hearing changes. They also might suggest that you use a cane or walker, make diet changes and/or start an exercise or physical therapy program. 

The bottom line: It’s vital to keep moving safely. Limited activity can lead to physical decline, depression, social isolation and feelings of helplessness, according to the National Council on Aging.

Discover more ways to lower your fall risk here.

4. Constipation

Why It Happens: Everyone can relate to the discomfort of not being able to go. Usually constipation goes away on its own. But for some people, it becomes an ongoing issue. 

The Mayo Clinic defines constipation as having fewer than three bowel movements in a week. Chronic constipation is when you have trouble going to the bathroom for several weeks or longer. 

What’s happening? Lack of exercise, not drinking enough water and too little fiber in your diet are common causes. Stress and the side effects of certain medications can also wreak havoc on your body’s ability to have healthy bowel movements.

What to Do About It: You can try some home remedies first. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommends the following:

  • Eat more high-fiber foods, such as beans, popcorn, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Women over age 50 need 25 grams of fiber a day, while men over 50 need 38 grams.
  • Drink more water. Dehydration can lead to dry stools, which are harder to pass.
  • Go for more walks. Exercise helps keep your system regular.

Not finding relief after a few days? Time to call the doctor, who will review your medications and lifestyle and possibly run tests to rule out a blockage or other problems.

Just don’t wait too long. The AAFP notes that constipation can lead to hemorrhoids and other complications that can become serious if left untreated.

5. Feeling Depressed

Why It Happens: While mental health issues are discussed more openly these days, some people can’t get past what they see as a stigma, a 2020 study in the Journal of Mental Health suggests. And that keeps them from getting helpful treatment.

Feelings of sadness or other heavy emotions can be difficult to talk about. Perhaps you don’t want people to think something is “wrong” with you. Or you think the feelings will pass. Or maybe you’re just not comfortable sharing your feelings with others. 

It’s important to know that you’re not alone in experiencing feelings of depression. In fact, older adults are at an increased risk, according to the NIA. But, while common, the NIA emphasizes that depression is not a normal part of aging.

Depression can have several causes: genetics, stressful life events, faulty mood regulations in the brain, medications, seasonal changes, medical problems and chemical imbalances.

What to Do About It: Your emotional and mental health play an important part in many aspects of your life, so be sure to talk with your doctor about how you are feeling emotionally. 

Your doctor might ask if your emotional issues are interfering with your relationships, regular daily activities and other interests. If you’ve felt sad, fatigued, grumpy and irritable and are having trouble sleeping, talk about it. These can all be symptoms of depression, according to the NIA.

Once your doctor understands what you’re experiencing emotionally, they can recommend any number of treatments to get you on a path to better mental health. 

Treatments may include therapy, medication, diet changes, positivity exercises (think journaling), calm breathing or meditation. Feeling better takes time, the NIA notes, but it can happen.