Let’s face it. Few of us look forward to discussing the state of our bowels. According to a recent survey, only seven in ten Canadians would be comfortable talking about their bowel movements with their doctor. That number goes down in relationships; only two in five would feel comfortable talking about it with their partner.

Embarrassment around one’s bowel habits isn’t just limited to talking about it. The same survey showed that one in four Canadians avoid going to the bathroom in while at the office. Since it’s really important to go when you feel the urge, this could worsen your constipation problem. As well, constipation could be a sign of a more serious medical issue, so you really do need to talk about it.

How can you increase your comfort level? It can help to keep in mind that doctors and nurses are familiar with the body’s processes and aren’t easily shocked or disgusted. They likely deal with all sorts of bowel issues on a regular basis, and have heard it all before.

Being direct, rather than vague and nonspecific, can help make your visit more productive when you bring up the subject with your doctor. Since doctors are often rushed, just get to the point and tell them you have a constipation problem.

Here are some other tips to get the most out of a visit to your doctor:

  • Keep a journal about your recent bowel movements and lifestyle changes. Have you started eating different kinds of foods lately? Are you straining to pass your stool? Do you feel blocked, like you can’t completely empty your bowel? Do you have other symptoms such as abdominal pain, gas, bloating, or blood in your stool? The more specific and detailed you are, the better your doctor can determine the cause and treatment.
  • Along with your symptoms, write down how long you’ve been experiencing them. A week? Off and on for over a year? Or did it come on suddenly? This will give your doctor a better idea about how to treat your problem.
  • List any medications that you’re taking on a regular basis or have recently started taking. Even some commonly used over-the-counter drugs such as painkillers or antacids can cause constipation, so let your doctor know about them.
  • Know your medical and family history, including any illnesses or injuries you’ve had in the past. This will help your doctor rule out any other causes of your symptoms.
  • Don’t be grossed out if your doctor asks you to describe what your bowel movements look like (colour, consistency, etc.) If they don’t know the specifics, they won’t be able to help you.
  • Take notes so that you can go over them when you get home. If you’re confused about something your doctor said after your visit, call their office for an explanation.
  • Schedule a follow-up appointment if necessary so your doctor can see whether your treatment plan is working.

Admittedly, some of this advice is easier said than done. But remember, we all go to the bathroom and we all have problems from time to time. Usually constipation is nothing to be concerned about, but it could be a sign of an underlying medical problem that could get worse over time. However embarrassing it may be to talk about, it’s always worth getting it checked out.

Find here is a handy checklist of possible signs that you can print out and bring to your doctor.