From poop to earwax, questions you’re too embarrassed to ask your doctor

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Sometimes we have health issues that we find, well, embarrassing.

While you should always ask your doctor any questions around your well-being, it can be hard to know when a weird-shaped poop is cause for concern.

Here, some health questions you may be too embarrassed to ask your doctor, and advice on when to seek medical attention.

I’m gassier than I used to be — what could be causing this?

Gas can smell unpleasant, but it’s very normal to toot.

Dr. Seema Marwaha, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, says sucking in air throughout the day is the main cause of gas. This happens when we chew gum, bite on a pen or drink carbonated drinks.

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“But then you also have bacteria in your gut that are responsible for producing methane gas and gases that can sometimes cause flatulence, which can be a bit more embarrassing,” she said.

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If you’re experiencing a change in your bowel movements or frequency or smell of gas, this may be caused by diet or lifestyle habits. Certain foods can promote gas as can intolerances.

“If you can’t control [gas] despite making dietary or lifestyle changes, that would be the time to see a physician,” Marwaha said.

One of my breasts is larger than the other — is this normal?

In short, yes: it is normal to have asymmetrical breasts.

“Nobody has perfect symmetrical breasts — as much as the media perpetuates that stereotype,” Marwaha said.

Marwaha says muscles around the breast as well as breast tissue help control where your breasts sit and if they sag. Breast size and shape can change slowly over time, especially after pregnancy and as we age.

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If your breasts have always been asymmetrical, you probably don’t need to worry. But if you’ve noticed a sudden change in shape, size or colour, you should see your doctor, Marwaha said.

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“Those would be reasons to actually seek medical attention and see if there’s anything further that you need to do,” she said.

When is the colour of my stool cause for concern?

It’s normal for your poop to change colour and change consistency based on what you’ve recently eaten, Marwaha said. Beets, for example, can cause your stool to become dark.

Travelling can also affect your stool’s consistency as can your gut’s bacteria.

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But if your poop becomes pale, or is the colour of white chalk, you should see your doctor. Marwaha says blood in the stool is also cause for concern, and should be addressed right away.

“Sometimes old blood can actually make your stools look like tar,” she said.

“If you notice that your stool has become thin or almost pencil-like, that would be a reason to also seek medical attention.”

How long can I be on the pill for?

Many women spend years taking the birth control pill.

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Marwaha says the pill is generally safe for most people to take if your doctor has screened you for any risk factors.

“There’s certain people who are higher risk when it comes to taking the pill: if you’re over 35 and you smoke or have a history of blood clotting of any kind,” she said.

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“If you don’t meet any of the high-risk criteria, you can actually take it as long as you need it until menopause.”

Marwaha points out, however, research on long-term birth control use and cancer risks.

“It can definitely decrease the risk of both ovarian and endometrial cancer. But on the flip side, there maybe a slight increase of cervical cancer,” she said.

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Dr. Elisa Assadi, a Vancouver-based family physician with Copeman Healthcare, previously told Global News long-term pill use is associated with a slight increased risk of breast cancer, too.
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If these cancers run in your family, be sure to tell your doctor and discuss your risks. There’s also research on mental health and the pill.

A 13-year research project out of Denmark, published in JAMA Psychiatry, revealed that women who used hormonal contraception were found to have a 40 per cent greater chance of developing depression after six months of use, compared to those who didn’t use it.

If you are concerned about the pill affecting your mental health, also speak to your doctor.

Why do I have earwax?

Earwax is normal.

The body makes earwax, or cerumen, to keep ears clean and trap substances like dust and dirt, preventing debris from getting further into the ear where it can cause damage.

As new skin grows in the ear canal, it pushes old earwax from the inside of the ears closer to the opening where it naturally flakes off or washes away during bathing.

Often, there’s nothing wrong with having a little earwax near the opening, doctors stress in guidelines published in Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery.

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But when the ear’s self-cleaning process doesn’t work well, too much earwax may accumulate and partially or fully block the ear canal. This can cause problems including pain, itching, discharge from the ear, ringing in the ear or hearing loss.

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Older adults may have more earwax because wax hardens over time, and we age, our skin also becomes softer, sometimes collapsing the ear canal.

If you suspect your earwax is abnormal, it’s best to see your doctor. Do not use cotton swabs to clean out earwax as it can lead to infection and damage your eardrum.

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“People use cotton swabs all the time and they think they are taking wax out but they are pushing the wax to the side,” audiologist Maryam Ghaderi of House of Hearing in Toronto previously told Global News.

“The more we do that over time… it builds up a hard wall of wax.”

— With files from Katie Dangerfield and Reuters


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