Sick Brits ‘dying of embarrassment’

May 09, 2011

Embarrassing health problems are driving Brits to desperate measures according to research out today (9 May 2011).

The Co-operative Pharmacy study* has revealed that two in five people would rather go untreated for a health issue because they are uncomfortable asking for help, with teenagers the most likely to suffer in silence.

Fear of a humiliating trip to the pharmacy has led to many people turning to the internet for help, according to the UK’s third largest pharmacy, which today announced the launch of a comprehensive health website – – complete with online doctor service. **

While many would rather struggle on without getting advice, more than two in three would rather buy treatment for an embarrassing illness online if they could, so that they didn’t have to talk to someone.

According to the study, of those willing to seek help in person, more than two in five would rather waste time waiting until a shop is empty before speaking to a healthcare assistant. 

More than a third would go out of their way to visit a pharmacy where they are less likely to be recognised by someone they know and more than a quarter cannot look the person who is trying to help them in the eye for fear of humiliation.

Among the illnesses people would be least likely to discuss with a healthcare professional were sexually transmitted infections (STIs), erectile dysfunction, worms, flatulence, incontinence and body odour.

The top embarrassment for women was discussing STIs, while erectile dysfunction topped the list for men.

Shoppers and their habits highlighted in the survey included:

  • The who wants to be a millionaire – shopper who phones a friend, taking them along for moral support
  • The incognito shopper – goes the extra mile to visit an area where they are unknown and less likely to be recognised
  • The bingo player – eyes down with the counter assistant
  • ‘I’m a lady!’ - won’t purchase items from the opposite sex
  • The denier – will suffer in silence rather than confronting embarrassing illnesses
  • Mr and Mrs Tannoy – I don’t care who knows what I’ve got!

‘Blushers’ and ‘mumblers’ also featured prominently in the study and more than a quarter of respondents furtively scan the shop to make sure that no one is listening in on their conversation or to check that no one is watching them collect treatment for their ailments.

Mandeep Mudhar, Head of Business Development at The Co-operative Pharmacy said: “Our research has shown that coy behaviour is putting people’s long-term health at risk and causing unnecessary suffering. Healthcare professionals are trained to deal with people’s concerns in a sensitive way, but despite this, people are too self-conscious to ask for help with certain issues, many ones that can be treated easily. 

“The majority of pharmacies now have a private consultation room, but customers also now have a wider range of options to explore when it comes to getting reliable and convenient health advice and treatment online via trusted information websites or an online doctor consultation.  We would always urge people to check that they are using a reputable UK-based source by looking for contact details.”

Behavioural psychologist, Donna Dawson, added: “Attempting to avoid situations that make us appear weak, foolish or vulnerable or which allow us to be laughed at by others can create some strange behaviours: for instance, we may react physically to our own embarrassment by fiddling with our clothes or hair, stammering or blushing, shuffling our feet, or looking down and avoiding eye-contact.

“Going into ‘denial’ mode is also very common, where we refuse to acknowledge the source of embarrassment or we can become silent.  Being self-conscious can also cause us to try and distract ourselves from our own embarrassment by doing something else, like phoning a friend. How we react in these situations is determined by a mix of genes, upbringing and social learning.”

The top five things men and women would be most embarrassed to discuss with a healthcare professional are:

Women Men
1 Treatment or test for Sexually Transmitted Infections – STIs (59%) 1 Erectile dysfunction/Viagra (58%)
2 Worms (53%) 2 Treatment or test for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) (47%)
3 Haemorrhoids/piles (47%) 3 Incontinence (39%)
4 Flatulence (46%) 3 Haemorrhoids/piles (39%)
4 Incontinence (46%) 4 Worms (35%)
5 Body odour (36%) 5 Flatulence (28%)


Notes to editors

*One Poll interviewed a random sample of 2,000 adults online in March 2011.  Surveys were conducted among adults across all ages and regions of the UK. will bring The Co-operative Pharmacy’s products and healthcare services online. Features of the new site include:

  • **an online doctor service in partnership with to offer customers medical diagnoses and treatment for a range of conditions via remote consultation
  • a Co-operative health assessment in conjunction with online health expert roadtohealth.  Users can gain an understanding of their current state of wellbeing and learn how to improve it. A series of tests monitor any potential risks and suggest lifestyle changes that can be made to prevent unwanted health issues occurring, such as stroke or diabetes
  • A-Z health directory and NHS Direct symptom checker
  • Appointments for biometric health testing can also be booked at a Co-operative Pharmacy branch via the website.  Tests include blood pressure checks, total cholesterol and blood glucose
  • an extended range of premium health and beauty brands

For further information contact:

Alex Anderson
Senior Public Relations Officer
The Co-operative Group
0161 2663416/ 07540 641368

Craig Noonan
PR Manager
0161 266 3589 / 07702 505439