Silent No More

From frequent urination to gas, experts pull the cover off the six most embarrassing women's health problems.

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on January 07, 2010
4 min read

Want in on a secret?

You aren't the only one.

Literally millions upon millions of women live with the perceived shame of frequent urination, excessive sweating, vaginal odor, gas, and other embarrassing conditions. They just don't want to talk about it.

"The most embarrassing conditions are the toilet talk topics, meaning anything having to do with anything that goes on in the bathroom -- including frequent urination, bladder problems, bowel problems, period problems, and vaginal discharge," says Donnica Moore, MD, a women's health expert based in Far Hills, N.J. "Toilet talk is followed by body odors, vaginal odors, and bad breath in terms of embarrassing women's health issues."

But keeping tight-lipped about these issues does a disservice, since many times an effective treatment is available, she tells WebMD. Here are the top six most embarrassing conditions facing women and why you should stay silent no more. Starting with:

Frequent urination. "We know that over 17 million American women have problems with bladder control, and yet people are embarrassed to talk about it because they think that once you are toilet-trained you should be able to 'control yourself,'" says Moore. "We also see these issues as conditions associated with aging, and nobody wants to admit that they are getting older. But one in three women with frequent urination is under 35.

"Leaking urine is abnormal under any circumstances once you have been toilet trained, but the good news is that there are many different treatment options for people with frequent urination," she says. "Health care providers have dropped the ball and don’t necessarily ask patients straight out, 'Do you leak urine?' or 'Do you have any bladder problems?'"

So the onus falls on the patient.

"Your doctor is not going to judge you, and potentially your doctor can help you," she says. "Step 1, make an appointment. Step 2, go. And Step 3, be very up-front and say 'The reason I am here today is because I have a leaky bladder,'" she suggests.

Self-help solutions may just make frequent urination worse. "Some women with an overactive bladder will restrict their fluid intake and that can actually worsen the condition by increasing bladder irritability," Moore says.

Frequent urination is not normal, but it is common in the perimenopausal years, says Jacqueline Thielen, MD, a consultant at the women's health clinic at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, Minn. Medications, certain dietary changes, and Kegel exercises to strengthen some of the muscles that control the flow of urine may help, she says.

Frequent urination can also be a sign of an underlying illness and requires evaluation, she tells WebMD. It may also be a side-effect of a medication you are taking.

Gas. Everybody has it, but most people don’t want to own up to it. "Tell your doctor because gas is very usually dietary-related and can also be treated with dietary modification and over-the-counter products like Gas-X or Beano," Moore says.

Mayo's Thielen says that "there are more things that can cause gas than just eating beans, and I think people are somewhat surprised that drinking through straws can introduce air in the gut and cruciferous vegetables can also cause gas."

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This disorder is marked by abdominal pain or discomfort and a change in bowel patterns, such as loose or more frequent bowel movements, diarrhea, and/or constipation. It affects 10%-15% or more of the general population, according to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, based in Milwaukee, Wis.

"People may be slightly embarrassed because they feel so different than everyone else, but it is extremely common in women, especially, and there is a lot of information out there that can help make life more tolerable," Thielen says. "A lot of women suffer in silence and think they are by themselves when a large population is affected in the same way."

Excessive sweating. Many women feel ashamed about excessive sweating, whether it's their palms or their underarms. "This needs to be evaluated by a doctor," Moore says. "There are prescription antiperspirants and, in extreme cases, Botox injections can also be a solution to sweaty palms, soles of the feet, and underarms."

Thielen adds: "If you do see a difference in your sweating, or if it's problematic and you don’t do certain activities because of the excessive sweating, or it causes distress in daily living, there are treatment options."

Vaginal odor. This can be a sign of infection, Thielen says, but not necessarily a yeast infection. "Some women overuse over-the-counter yeast creams and may be missing out on more accurate treatments," she says. "Some women just think they smell differently, and this may have an effect on their body image or their feelings with regard to sexual activity," she says. The bottom line? "Talk to your doctor."

Lack of libido. "I think women are embarrassed to bring up decreased libido, but it could be a sign of a whole host of things," Thielen says. "Low libido could have psychological, biological, or social causes, so it really requires investigation of all those aspects to determine what the cause is," she says. For example, a woman may be taking on a caregiving role with her elderly parents so her time is consumed and she is physically and emotionally not available for sex (social). Low libido may be caused by depression, anxiety, or poor body image (psychological). Biological issues like heart disease, and diabetes, or drugs that affect arousal can also play a role in low libido, she says.