Women Share “Secrets” with Doctors They Trust
Important questions go unasked, unanswered without physician initiative
Some secrets can be shared with your family and some secrets can be shared with your friends. There are other secrets that women, in particular, are only willing to share with a trusted physician who is ready and willing to listen to their concerns.
Women may be better than men at getting regular health checkups but they are equally reticent in opening up about sensitive health concerns when they visit their obstetrician/gynecologist or primary care physician. It is important to develop a relationship with a physician so that it is easier to discuss difficult topics.
“Doctors can sense a hidden agenda from some patients,” said Michelle Klyn, MD, obstetrics/gynecology, Spectrum Health Obstetrics and Gynecology. “If you typically only see a patient once a year and suddenly they are coming in frequently for check ups, there is probably something else going on.”
It is easy to ignore the signals that a patient may be hiding a concern, said Klyn, particularly as physicians rush through busy days.
“Sitting and listening can be hard to do but that is how we discover health ‘secrets’ that may be causing a patient real distress,” explained Klyn. “If I send a patient away after a mammogram and a pap smear without really talking to her, I have missed the opportunity to help.”
According to Klyn, women hesitate to share concerns in several areas.
Vanity can cause women to hide concerns related to aging.
“Patients notice changes in their skin, or are struggling with unexpected midriff weight, sleeping or diet problems. They don’t want to connect these changes with aging.’ However, if we know what’s going on, there are solutions or advice we can offer,” Klyn explained.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adult use of antidepressants has almost tripled in the last two decades. However, Klyn finds that many of her patients don’t recognize or admit that they may be struggling with depression.
“Patients who come in to see me complaining about fatigue, lack of motivation, weight loss or gain, insomnia or even frequent headaches don’t realize that these are symptoms of depression,” said Klyn. “Women have a lot going on in their lives and stress can lead to depression. However, they don’t want to let their friends or family know they are struggling. They may not understand how stress is impacting their health until we talk, dig a little deeper, and try to find out more.”
“Women get very concerned when they experience any sort of unusual vaginal discharge. They don’t understand what is going on and find it difficult and embarrassing to discuss,” said Klyn.’ “Physicians need to be informed about what a patient is experiencing in order to determine if this is a symptom of a potentially serious health concern or normal for that individual.”
Female mustaches have never been in style, and women will go to extraordinary lengths and expense to hide this problem. Hormonal changes in midlife can lead to facial hair growth. Klyn said that, unless this is a sign of an underlying hormonal disorder, a physician can offer several simple solutions to help patients with this concern.
“Who wants to tell your friends that you are still dealing with pimples at 40?” said Klyn. “However, acne is a very real problem for some women. Physicians can guide their patients to medical solutions or refer them to a dermatologist.”
Women of all ages have questions related to sex that they really should share with their physician, Klyn explained.
“All women can experience low libido, which may be due to such things as relationship issues, stress or, as women age, declining hormone levels,” she said. “Younger women can experience pain with sex, something they don’t want to admit to their partners or friends. If you discuss this openly with your physician, the cause can often be found. The good news is that many treatment options exist that can improve or completely resolve the problem.”
Some patients have health secrets that obviously have the potential for dire consequences.
“Women are very hesitant to request an HIV test, particularly if they are in a committed relationship. However, if they feel they might have a reason to be concerned, we need to know,” said Klyn.
Klyn’s advice to both women and men is to establish a relationship with a trusted physician.
“Having a relationship in place will make it easier to discuss sensitive topics and a good doctor won’t walk away when you have health secrets to share,” she said.
Spectrum Health is a not-for-profit health system in West Michigan that offers a full continuum of care through its seven hospitals, more than 140 service sites and 560,000-member health plan, Priority Health.’ Spectrum Health’s 14,000 employees, 1,500 medical staff members and 2,000 volunteers are committed to delivering the highest quality care to those in medical need.’ The organization provided $98.6 million in community benefit during its 2007 fiscal year. Spectrum Health has earned nearly 70 national awards during the past 10 years.