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Your embarrassing health questions, answered
Borrowers who practice responsible

You should be able to discuss anything with your doctor, but some topics may make you more squeamish than others. To help, here are answers to common embarrassing questions.

Q: My arms and legs are hairier than those of my female friends. Could there be a medical reason for this? How can I get rid of unwanted hair?

A: There are many reasons why some women have excess body hair. All women produce some male hormones, but those who produce higher levels may be hairier. The tendency may be inherited or caused by conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome. Whatever the cause, hair can be removed without a physician’s care. You may shave, tweeze or wax at home, or at a salon or spa, although shaven hair that grows back may appear thicker, and plucking or waxing may cause scarring. Bleaching the hair or removing it with chemicals are two other options. For a long-term solution, consider laser hair removal, which permanently damages individual hair follicles and prevents them from sprouting new hairs. Laser hair removal may be painful and expensive, but it can be effective, and it’s available without a doctor’s prescription.

Q: A recent incident has made me concerned that I may have erectile dysfunction. I’ve never had anything like this happen before. What should I do?

A: Most men occasionally have trouble maintaining erections, but the issue often resolves on its own without treatment. If a problem persists over time, it’s called erectile dysfunction (also known as impotence). In young men, erection problems are commonly caused by psychological factors, such as stress or negative thoughts or feelings about sex. Try relaxing and talking openly with your partner about your sexual relationship instead of pressuring yourself to perform, in case the cause is psychological. Problems among older men are often linked to physical problems like high blood pressure or taking certain medications. If the cause is physical, a doctor will need to assess and treat the condition. If a man has spontaneous erections when he wakes up in the morning, it’s unlikely there’s a medical cause to his erectile dysfunction. For these men, “pressure to perform” and other stresses may be the cause of their erectile dysfunction. You should see a doctor if you’re unable to achieve or maintain an erection more than 25 percent of the time.

Q: When I get hemorrhoids, the itchiness bothers me all day. Is there anything I can do at home to relieve the burning and itching?

A: You won’t be able to eliminate hemorrhoids without your doctor’s care, but you may be able to relieve your symptoms like itching, pain and swelling. Over-the-counter hemorrhoid treatments may be effective; apply as directed. Witch hazel can relieve itching, as well, and ice packs can relieve swelling. Switch from showers to baths and stop soaping the area for a while, since soap can be irritating. Consider drying the affected area with your hair dryer set to “low”—the skin will get much drier than when you towel off, and excess moisture can cause irritation. Stop using dry toilet paper for a while and opt for moist wipes or moistened toilet paper. To prevent future hemorrhoids, follow a high-fiber diet and drink lots of fluids; you’ll find it much easier to have bowel movements without straining, which can lead to hemorrhoids.

Q: My feet always sweat and smell, which makes it embarrassing to take my shoes off when other people are around. Is there a treatment?

A: Sweat itself doesn’t have an odor; the bacteria on your skin contact your perspiration and make it smell. To combat this, dry your feet thoroughly after bathing to reduce the chances of bacteria thriving on your feet. Try foot powder to absorb excess moisture. Wear only cotton or wool socks, which absorb moisture and help keep your feet dry; change them once or twice a day as needed, drying your feet before you put on new ones. Put on moisture-wicking athletic socks when you exercise. Rotate the shoes you wear daily to allow your footwear to dry out thoroughly. You might even consider applying an antiperspirant to the soles of your feet before bedtime. Prescription medications may be prescribed if needed.

Q: After experiencing a urinary tract infection (UTI), I don’t want to have another. How can I prevent more from developing?

A: Most women don’t have recurrences, but about 20 percent experience another UTI, and some women get them three times a year or more, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Recurrences among men tend to be more frequent, but men are less likely to initially suffer from UTIs: Each year, about 13 million women experience at least one UTI, but only about 2 million men do. They happen when bacteria find their way into the urethra, bladder or other parts of the urinary tract, and they must be treated with antibiotics. Ward off future UTIs by staying hydrated and urinating regularly; this should remove bacteria from your urinary tract before they can cause damage. Drink six to eight glasses of water a day. Some studies also say that cranberry juice can help reduce the recurrence of UTIs. When you feel the urge to urinate, find a bathroom quickly; when you hold urine, you give bacteria a chance to grow. Urinate after having sex, since bacteria may have entered your urethra during intercourse. For female UTIs that occur after sex, your doctor may prescribe medication that can be taken before or after sex.