Millions of adults too embarrassed to see doctor about potentially serious symptoms

Young adult woman holding her crotch because of symptoms (Getty Images)
Many adults are avoiding seeing the doctor about their symptoms, and self-dianosing on Google instead (Getty Images)

Millions of adults are too embarrassed to book an appointment with a doctor about potential symptoms of a severe disease, a new study has revealed.

These include excessive flatulence, blood in urine, vaginal discharge changes and bleeding between periods and after sex.

More than a quarter of adults revealed they have skipped seeing a GP as they sadly feared their personal problem was too shameful to share, the 'Check for Change' survey of 2,255 people by Essity found.

A spokesperson for the hygiene and health firm said, "it's crucial we overcome the embarrassment and stigma that surrounds our intimate health".

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Some 12% of men and women have put off making a doctor's appointment for a concerning two years or more to avoid addressing a health issue that made them cringe.

Worryingly, taking matters into their own hands during the pandemic, nearly half of adults attempted to self-diagnose during lockdown by searching through non-NHS sites and 'Dr Google' to try and understand their symptoms – rather than just speaking to a professional.

However, almost a third of respondents revealed they had tried to get a face-to-face GP appointment, but didn't have any luck because of the coronavirus restrictions, the 'Check for Change' survey found.

"Searching for symptoms online seems to have become normalised among UK adults during coronavirus lockdowns," Essity's spokesperson said.

"But under no circumstances should anybody rely on a diagnosis from social media or 'Dr Google'.

"See your real-life doctor or healthcare professional if you're worried. It's crucial we overcome the embarrassment and stigma that surrounds our intimate health."

Read more: 'Embarrassing' health complaints women shouldn’t be ashamed of

Mature Woman In Consultation With Female Doctor Sitting On Examination Couch In Office
Seeing a doctor is the best solution for a symptom you might be worried about (Getty Images)

The poll questioned 2,000 people aged 18 to 55+ from England, Scotland and Wales, and 255 in the same age range from the north and south of Ireland.

Many respondents insisted they would never book a doctor's appointment about a range of 'bathroom-related' health issues. While many of these symptoms are likely to be harmless, they also could be warning signs of cancer and other serious illnesses, and are always worth getting checked.

In order, the most 'embarrassing' symptoms cited by those polled, were flatulence at 34%, of which 15% would wait more than two weeks to see their GP, bleeding between periods/after sex at 16%, of which 16% would wait longer than a fortnight, and vaginal discharge changes at 14%, of which 10% would also wait.

Excessive flatulence can signify potential Coeliac disease and irritable or inflamed bowels, while bleeding and vaginal symptoms can signify some types of cancer, some STIs, damage or infections.

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Completing the top 10 list of 'embarrassing' symptoms given are changes in stool colour/consistency/smell/shape, unusual testicle size difference, swelling/enlargement of/pain in testicle, bladder control loss/urinary incontinence, bruising easily and fluid build-up, bowel incontinence and abnormal growths/sores on penis or vagina.

Almost a quarter preferred searching Google for symptoms over speaking to a doctor about them, despite nearly a third claiming they "assumed the worst" about a change in their body – something which Google can turn into a vicious circle.

Of the 26% of those surveyed who gave embarrassment as the reason for making them put off visiting a doctor, 22% were men and 31% were women.

Younger women find it most difficult to see a doctor about an 'embarrassing' symptom (Getty Images)
Younger women find it most difficult to see a doctor about an 'embarrassing' symptom (Getty Images)

Those aged 18-34 delayed seeing a GP the most, with 39% of this age group explaining they had delayed going to a professional about something they felt would be too difficult to share.

More than two in 10 of those in the study admitted they had been diagnosed with a condition that could have been found earlier if they had visited a doctor when their symptoms started.

Uncontrollably weeing or defecating was pinpointed at the top of a list of the most 'shameful' things to admit to friends or family, with respondents saying it would be as difficult as confessing to losing a job or engagement ring.

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However, some 'embarrassing' symptoms were found to be too important not to ignore, such as discovering a lump or swelling in the breasts, testicles, groin, chest or stomach, which would send people to the doctor in less than a day.

Those who found abnormal growths on sores on the penis or vagina said they would also promptly seek professional help, with only 4% of men and 5% of women willing to ignore these symptoms.

Young African American woman palpating her breast by herself that she concern about breast cancer. Healthcare and breast cancer concept
Discovering a lump or swelling in the breasts which would send people to the doctor in less than a day (Getty Images)

“It is perfectly understandable that people with symptoms that they feel embarrassed about would rather not share their concerns with a medical professional, but we have to remember these guys have seen these types of problems a million times before," Essity's spokesperson added.

"The important thing is that we check for any potentially concerning changes in our bathroom health, and then have the confidence to speak to a healthcare professional about it.”

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