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Seven Medical Questions You’d Rather Ask the Internet
In an age where you can find shoes, a house, and a spouse online, it’s no surprise that many often consult the Internet for answers to their medical questions before they visit their family doctor.
Today we tackle seven medical questions that you might be hesitant to bring up with your doctor, with the help of our own Wayne Guerra, MD, Chief Medical Officer of iTriage.
1. Why is my poop green?
Those who look in the toilet before they flush may be surprised, or even alarmed, if they see green stool.
“Stool can come in many colors, and can mean many things,” says Dr. Guerra. “Green stool is usually the result of diet: eating lots of green vegetables, or foods or beverages with green dyes, can cause your stool to be green.”
Green stool can also be caused by bile, says Dr. Guerra. Bile, a chemical produced in the liver that helps us digest fat, changes the color of our waste from green to brown as it passes through our digestive tract. But if the waste passes through too quickly, as in cases of diarrhea, your stool may be green.
“Minor variations in stool color are rarely cause for concern,” says Dr. Guerra. “But if you notice a drastic change, consult your physician.”
2. Do I have a cold sore or oral herpes?
Cold sores, fever blisters, whatever you want to call them, the reality is that your cold sore is probably a symptom of oral herpes.
“If you get reoccurring sores on your lips or mouth, you may have oral herpes,” says Dr. Guerra. “Other symptoms include fever and swollen glands.”
Oral herpes, caused by the herpes simplex virus, is found in more than 50% of American adults, according to the American Sexual Health Association. Asymptomatic cases of herpes (where the infected person shows no signs of herpes) are twice as common as cases with symptoms.
There are two types of herpes simplex virus: HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 is usually associated with the lips and mouth, while HSV-2 is usually associated with the genitals (genital herpes), though you can have either type in either area. The common names we use to describe herpes refer to the areas affected, not the type of virus.
Oral herpes can be passed on through kissing, sexual contact, sharing personal items, and sharing eating utensils. Even if sores are not present, the virus can still be passed to others.
“Both types of herpes are highly contagious,” says Dr. Guerra. “Since an estimated two-thirds of people who have the virus don’t express any symptoms, it’s important to get tested and know your status so that you don’t infect others.”
While there is no cure for herpes, there are many treatments available to control the frequency and severity of outbreaks. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options.
3. Why are my breasts sore?
“Many women experience sore and tender breasts, often before their period starts,” says Dr. Guerra. “This kind of breast pain is known as cyclic, whereas breast pain not associated with menstruation is known as noncyclic.” Cyclic breast pain often affects younger women who have not gone through menopause; noncyclic breast pain is often more commonly associated with post-menopausal women.
What causes this pain? Dr. Guerra says a host of factors can influence how and when a woman experiences sore and tender breasts: hormones, medication, stress, and the size of a woman’s breasts can be contributing factors.
While breast pain is never pleasant, Dr. Guerra says that it is not often cause for alarm. “Breast pain is rarely a sign of breast cancer,” says Dr. Guerra. “Though if the pain is interfering with your daily activities, worsens, is associated with redness and/or increased warmth of the breast, or doesn’t go away, consult your physician.”
4. Why am I peeing so frequently?
When nature calls so often you feel as if you spend more time in the bathroom than out, it’s time to consult your physician, says Dr. Guerra.
“Frequent urination can be the result of overactive bladder syndrome, where the bladder contracts involuntarily,” says Dr. Guerra. “It has many other possible causes: diabetes, pregnancy, medications, prostate problems, interstitial cystitis, or neurological disease.”
So, if your fluid intake is normal, see your doctor to explore your condition.
5. I have a reoccurring rash—could it be shingles?
Shingles is chickenpox returning with a vengeance, and is also known as herpes zoster. Shingles appears when the virus that causes chickenpox reactivates. “After recovery from chickenpox, some virus particles continue to survive for decades,” says Dr. Guerra. “They live in clusters of nerve cells called nerve roots, where they are protected from your immune system. When the virus re-emerges (often years later), you may feel tingling and burning of the skin, and pain that can be intense.” You may also experience flu-like symptoms, usually without a fever, and your lymph nodes may swell.
These symptoms are usually followed by a painful rash, which will only affect one side of your body. The rash will blister, then scab over, healing in two to four weeks.
“If you suspect you have shingles, it’s important that you consult your physician as soon as possible,” says Dr. Guerra. “Your physician can prescribe you antiviral medicines that may help control the pain and avoid complications.”
6. Why is there blood in my stool?
“Bright red blood on your toilet paper or in the toilet bowl could mean you simply have an anal fissure or a hemorrhoid, both of which should resolve with simple treatments. It could also mean you have a colon polyp, which, if left untreated, could lead to colon cancer,” says Dr. Guerra. Other possible conditions include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s Disease, ulcerative colitis, diverticular disease, an untreated bowel infection, rectal cancer, or colon cancer.
Given the wide range of possible causes for bright red blood in your stool, Dr. Guerra advises consulting your physician. “If the bleeding doesn’t stop, or if you notice large amounts of blood, or have stools with a coffee-grain appearance, you need treatment right away.”
7. Why are my genitals so itchy?
“In women, an itchy vagina can indicate a yeast infection, or chemical irritation due to hygiene product use,” says Dr. Guerra. “It can also indicate something more serious, like a sexually transmitted disease.” In postmenopausal women, vaginal itching may be due to fluctuations in estrogen levels.
For men, as for women, penile itching could be the result of an STD. Jock itch, a fungal infection of the groin, could also be the culprit.