In a world where staying on top is a priority, we may tend to overlook the smaller details of our health in favor of looking like we’re in the best shape to do our work and live our awesome lives. No one wants to hear about your fifth missed period in a row or that weird yellow stain on your pinky nail, right?
What we’re really doing is ignoring a train bound to wreck itself instead of stopping it in its tracks before the crash becomes inevitable. Not enough talk about these “small details” of our health translates to not enough action, and before we know it we’re waist-deep in complications that could have been avoided had we been open about them from the start.
Here are five common conditions that we don’t talk about enough--but totally should!
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Polycystic ovary syndrome occurs because of a hormonal imbalance in women that causes multiple small cysts to grow in the ovaries. The ovaries then make an abnormal amount of male sex hormones (called testosterone), which interferes with ovulation and leads to period irregularities and fertility problems. The body’s appearance changes to become more man-like as well, with the growth of acne and extra body hair on the face, chest, back, and abdomen.
PCOS is genetic and can be passed down from either parent. Upon consult, your gynecologist will ask questions about your family history, menstrual cycle, and reproductive health. She will also assess you physically for signs of PCOS, such as acne, facial hair and body hair, and occasionally high blood pressure. To fully confirm the diagnosis, your gynecologist may order hormone level blood tests and perform a pelvic ultrasound to examine your ovaries and look for the presence of ovarian cysts.
You may be prescribed with birth control pills to regulate your hormones and cycle, and fertility treatments if you are having trouble conceiving. Maintain a healthy weight to help keep your hormones balanced and menstrual cycle regular. If you’re a smoker, cut down on your usage or quit altogether—smoking increases testosterone levels and may exacerbate PCOS.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease
Gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD is sometimes used interchangeably with heartburn, but they’re not necessarily the same. GERD is the term for the chronic reflux of acid into the esophagus due to a faulty sphincter between the esophagus and stomach; heartburn is the sensation felt when acid regurgitates itself into the esophagus and irritates its lining.
GERD manifests as heartburn, chest pain, the sensation of a lump or object in your throat, and actual regurgitation of stomach acid and even food. The strong acids that keep rising up in your throat can irritate your vocal cords and cause hoarseness of the voice. Over time, the constant erosion of your esophageal lining can form sores and later scars. The changes in the esophageal tissue can increase your risk for cancer.
If your symptoms become too severe or frequent, your doctor may prescribe medications to reduce acid production and antacids to neutralize stomach acid. You may also be given baclofen, a medication that targets the sphincter that isn’t closing properly and helps it tense up. To settle your sour tummy, you can also eat apples. Sweet red apples are alkaline and help relieve the symptoms of GERD by neutralizing stomach acid thus reducing irritation of the sphincter and reflux.
Note: See your doctor at once if you experience chest pain, especially combined with numbness of your arm or jaw, and shortness of breath. You may be mistaking a heart attack for symptoms of GERD.
Nail fungus makes up a third of all skin infections. It occurs when a type of fungus called a dermatophyte takes up residence in your nail (usually after being constantly exposed to damp, warm environments) and begins to feed on the nail tissue. Nail fungus isn’t dangerous, but it causes discoloration, thickening, discomfort, and possible breaking of the nail.
Nail fungus is challenging to treat. Complete healing takes place over the course of up to 6 months for the fingernails and over a year for toenails, and even then the possibility of recurrence is great. Your dermatologist may prescribe antifungal creams to be applied to the nails in conjunction with stronger oral medications. You can also try home remedies like apple cider vinegar soaks to supplement your prescriptions.
Speaking of fungal infections, vaginal candidiasis is the second most common kind of vaginal infections in America (after bacterial vaginal infections). Candida albicans is a type of yeast that is considered to be normal flora in parts of the body like the mouth and skin. But when the balance in your body changes (for example, during the hormonal changes of pregnancy or birth control pill use, during a period of weakened immune system, or during the use of certain medications), it is easy for the yeast found in your vagina to multiply.
In vaginal candidiasis, you may experience swelling, redness, and unbearable itchiness of the vagina and vulva, pain during urination and sex, and a thick, white, cheesy discharge from the vagina.
It is possible to transmit yeast infections during sexual contact, so if you suspect a yeast infection, hold off on sex until you receive treatment and are in the clear. For men, yeast infections manifest as an extremely itchy rash on the penis.
Usually, a single dose of oral antifungal medication like fluconazole will be enough to tame the overgrown yeast. If you experience yeast infections multiple times a year, though, your gynecologist may prescribe regular doses of antifungal medication spaced throughout the year to keep your yeast level within normal range.
Everyone gets anxiety, but not everyone has an anxiety disorder. Anxiety as an emotion is normal during times of pressure or major change, but anxiety disorders are real mental illnesses that can make you worried and fearful enough to disable you from functioning normally even on an ordinary day.
There are three types of anxiety disorders. Generalized anxiety disorder, in which you feel irrational, excessive worry and fear for no reason; panic disorder, in which you experience random bouts of terror accompanied by palpitations, chest pains, and difficulty in breathing; and social anxiety disorder, in which you have a crippling uneasiness during social situations and tend to overthink social interactions and what people may think of you.
No exact cause for anxiety disorders can be pinpointed, but they are often caused by a combination of genetic, biological, and environmental factors. The parts of your brain that process fear and worry may be overactive. This can be passed on in families, and aggravated by stressors in your surroundings.
To diagnose anxiety disorders, a mental health professional will need to perform both a mental health evaluation (to see if other mental health conditions exist alongside the anxiety disorder) and a physical assessment (to rule out other medical causes).
Psychotherapy to confront the anxiety-inducing situations, and cognitive behavioral therapy to teach you healthier ways of coping and reacting to your anxiety and your triggers are proven to be effective in managing anxiety disorders. CBT is especially helpful in treating social anxiety disorder by developing healthier social skills. Anti-anxiety medications duly prescribed by your psychiatrist further help in reducing panic attacks and other symptoms of anxiety.
More talk means more action
The more we understand flaws in our body, the less intimidated we become. Don’t be ashamed to dig into a pack of crackers in the middle of the day to calm your gurgling stomach. Say you need a mental health day to get your worries and fears back in line. This acceptance of our bodies is the example we set to others, whom we educate in turn about the illnesses we’re going through being real, valid, and nothing to be ashamed of in polite conversation.
And where words, ideas, and experiences are exchanged, action soon follows. So don’t be afraid to talk about how the small details! Talking takes us--and others afflicted with the same conditions--a step closer to understanding, researching new solutions to existing problems, and ultimately, staying right on target.
By: Sandy Getzky
Sandy Getzky is the executive coordinating editor at The Global Nail Fungus Organization, a group committed to helping the 100+ million people suffering from finger and toenail fungus. Sandy is also a registered Herbalist and member of the American He