Bad breath, sweating, incontinence, gas … they’re the punch lines of a lot of jokes, but in real life, they’re so humiliating you don’t dare admit them to anyone. However, if you do experience any of these problems regularly, it’s important to let your doctor know. “We talk about things that are embarrassing and private all the time,” says Dr. Kenneth L. Savage Jr., an osteopathic physician at the University Community Hospital in Tampa, Fla. Read on to learn more about your most hush-hush health issues.
If you’re constantly popping breath mints and you haven’t seen your dentist recently, you might want to schedule an appointment, says Savage. Bad breath can be a sign of periodontal disease or other dental trouble. Brush and floss regularly, and drink plenty of water to wash away odor-causing bacteria.
It’s also possible that the problem lies farther south. Foul breath can be caused by inefficient digestion that leaves food in your stomach, says Dr. William LaTorre, a chiropractor and holistic practitioner who heads the LaTorre Wellness Center in St. Petersburg, Fla. Probiotics or digestive-enzyme supplements can help.
Finally, bad breath can be a symptom of a more serious condition like acid reflux or diabetes, so talk to your doctor if it doesn’t go away. “A sweet but pungent odor can be a sign of high blood sugar,” Savage says.
Too Much Sweat
Excess perspiration isn’t just a matter of underarm stains on your shirt. Your entire body — including your hands, feet, face, chest and back — can be affected. Sweating can be caused by a number of factors: genetics, hormonal imbalance, thyroid conditions, stress, menopause, or even too much spicy food, so it’s best to see your doctor to find the source. Prescription antiperspirants and deodorants can help in some cases, Savage says. For sweating that doesn’t respond to topical treatment, there are other medical options, such as Botox injections.
Loss of Control
Stress incontinence (the fancy name for leaking urine) can happen when you sneeze, cough, laugh, or even stand and sit — all of which change the pressure the abdominal muscles exert on the bladder, Savage says. The tissues and muscles of the pelvic floor can loosen over time, particularly if you’ve had children or are experiencing menopause.
Fortunately, the solution can be as simple as cutting back on caffeine and taking frequent bathroom breaks. Try Kegel exercises, too: Tense your pelvic floor muscles (as if you were trying to hold back urine), hold for a count of five, and then relax. Try five reps to start, and then work up to 10. For more severe cases, options include wearing sanitary pads or a pessary (a diaphragm-like supportive device), taking medication, or getting surgery.
Burping … and Worse
We’ve all been humiliated by an earth-shaking belch or a room-clearing you-know-what. Fortunately, excessive flatulence or gas on its own is rarely serious, Savage says, and most likely the problem stems from diet. Fast foods, processed meals and simple carbohydrates like white bread can produce unwanted gas, but so can healthier fare like beans, broccoli and peppers.
Savage recommends getting to know which foods don’t agree with you, then cutting down on them while also boosting your intake of water and fiber. You can also prevent gas by taking a supplement before meals. But if you’re experiencing abdominal pain, diarrhea or other intestinal trouble in addition to your gas, it’s time to visit a gastroenterologist to pinpoint the deeper problem behind it.