Embarrassing symptoms you should not ignore

Everyday we experience disturbances in our bodies that we might perceive as normal, self limiting or potentially worrying. How do we know which to ignore, treat ourselves or seek advice? There are of course, red flag symptoms which should not be ignored. Other disturbances may be problems we would rather not talk about.
I would like to share with you some embarrassing symptoms that are potentially worrying and would urge you to get checked out. You may be worried about what would happen when you see your healthcare professional. This is understandable, however we are here to make sure you are well looked after and have all appropriate tests and treatments and feel healthy. As well as discussing these signs and symptoms you shouldn’t ignore, I would also like to share with you what to expect when you see your doctor.

Excessive sweating

Sweating helps to cool down the body, however there are various reasons why it can become excessive. Sweating continuously, regardless of activity or stress levels, usually indicates that the sweat glands are constantly activated. This is a condition called hyperhidrosis. And it can be focal -in the armpits or palms – or generalised. The cause of this can range from infections to drugs to hormone problems to idiopathic. Finding and treating the underlying reason is therefore crucial. Focal sweating can be reduced with topical preparations available on prescription, should antiperspirants not work. A referral to a dermatologist may be required as other treatment options such as ionotophoresis (the use of water currents to stop focal sweating), oral medications or botox are available.

Painful bowel motions

This can occur as a result of passing stools too frequently or infrequently. It is often due to haemorrhoids or fissures around the back passage. Straining due to constipation exacerbates this as it causes trauma to the surrounding area. The pain makes you less inclined to pass stools and this can make it worse as stools get drier and more difficult to move. It is important to have this treated so as to prevent severe constipation, profuse bleeding or infection in that area. Treating constipation with dietary modifications including fibre rich foods, exercise and water is vital to help piles or fissure heal. Laxatives and topical ointments and suppositories can also be obtained from a pharmacy or prescribed. It can also be associated with bleeding, heavy periods or lower abdominal discomfort. This warrants a review by your healthcare provider.

Nipple changes

This includes leaky or inverted nipples or skin changes. There are several causes for this including problems with your hormones. Provided you are not breastfeeding, producing breast milk should be investigated as it may be due to excess of a hormone called prolactin. Excess prolactin may be due to a benign growth in the pituitary gland in the brain. Other causes include medications, stress, thyroid and kidney problems. These are all treatable. If left untreated, it can affect your periods, cause infertility, contribute to osteoporosis and cause pressure effects if due to the benign growth. Your health practitioner would ask further questions regarding associated symptoms. This may include your family history, menstrual cycle, contraceptive use and vision. They would then carry out an examination and might organise blood tests. Depending on their findings, a referral to a breast or hormone specialist may be warranted.

Abnormal smell

When the natural environment in the vagina becomes upset, this can lead to an overgrowth of bacteria which causes a ‘fishy’ smell. This is a condition called bacterial vaginosis. It might be associated with discharge and itching. Triggers for this can include menstruation, douches and semen. This is different from a yeast infection which causes itch with an odourless discharge and can easily be treated with an over the counter medication such as canesten. Depending on your symptoms and sexual history, your doctor may examine you and take samples to rule out other infections. A vaginal gel or antibiotics may be prescribed. Usually, bacterial vaginosis doesn’t cause further problems, however, if it occurs at certain times, such as during pregnancy, it may increase the risk of delivering earlier than expected. It is also associated with a higher risk of sexually transmitted infections and inflammation of the pelvic region.


Though often benign and due to eating foods or drinks that produce excess wind, it can also be due to other conditions. If unexplained or associated with other symptoms, for instance, urine or bowel frequency, abdominal pain, then a visit your doctor is warranted. Depending on their findings, they may do blood tests and scan to rule out anything sinister such as ovarian cancer.


Women often find they leak urine when exercising, especially running. This is known as stress incontinence. This can be due to the increase in abdominal pressure with exercise. Incontinence can also occur because of an overactive bladder. The latter is known as urge incontinence. Some women have both. In addition to exercise, other causes for this include medications, weak pelvic muscles, urine infections, to name a few. Treatment options vary depending on the underlying cause. It is important to see your doctor to rule out any structural abnormalities, test your urine and direct you in the treatment path that would be more suited to your symptoms. This include pelvic floor exercises or bladder retraining or seeing a (gynea) urologist.

Low libido

The cause of this is complicated and could be due to physical, psychological and social reasons. Women can experience this due to hormone changes, however, mental health problems, such as depression is a common cause for this. It affects the chemicals in your brain which are required for
a normal libido. There may be other symptoms of depression such as trouble sleeping, general aches, as well as feeling sad and hopeless. Some may be subtle and you might not put them together as being related. Speaking to your healthcare professional can help working out wether your symptoms are due to depression or stress and also signposting you to the best treatment option for you- such as talking therapy, mindfulness, exercise therapy. Medication might be required as a last resort, depending on the severity of your situation and should ideally be one with minimal effects of libido.