We’ve all been there: Someone, well-meaning or not, offers us medical advice or says something about our health that we find a bit odd. Whether it’s from a doctor, family member, friend, or a total stranger, comments about our health aren’t always medically sound. Sometimes, these comments or pieces of advice are harmless and interesting — and in other cases, they can strike us as insensitive or irresponsible.
HealthCentral asked people to share the most bizarre medical advice they have ever received. Here’s what they had to say.
“When my daughter was at a check-up as a teen, the doctor made a suggestion, due to her weight, that she swish with Listerine when she felt like eating. The doctor said, ‘When your mouth feels clean, you won’t feel like eating. It’ll help you lose weight.’” — Deborah, New Mexico
“Many years ago, I went to my primary care physician’s office to ask about getting on a new birth control pill. I couldn’t see my regular doctor, but one of the male doctors was available and I didn’t want to wait, so I said I would see him. He wasn’t comfortable with giving me this new pill without a pelvic exam, so I told him to go ahead and do one! He seemed a little shocked, like he expected I would have just said, ‘Oh, OK’ and gone to a OB-GYN. The exam lasted about 20 minutes, during which the nurse and I were trying so hard not to laugh. Bless this man’s heart — he tried all of the tools and tricks and finally said, ‘I can’t seem to find your uterus.’ I almost died. He gave me my pill but only after I promised to go see an OB-GYN for an exam. My dad’s comment later was, ‘Did you tell him you were pretty sure you brought it with you?’” — Ashley, West Virginia
“I have an imperforated hymen, which covers things up so nothing can go in. When I was in high school, my gynecologist told me I just needed to ‘have sex with a big [expletive] and lots of lube.’ I was too young for all of that but later learned it’s meant to be surgically removed.” — Anonymous, Virginia
“While separating from my husband, I decided to make an appointment with the psychiatrist because I was having trouble sleeping and my anxiety had come back with a vengeance. The first thing the doctor said when I told him what was going on in my life was something along the lines of, ‘Is there someone else? Did Facebook have anything to do with the separation?’ Not only did I find this personally off-putting, but coming from an educational background in mental health, as well, I found this to be very unprofessionally worded and handled. Needless to say, I never returned to him.” — Erin, Maryland
“My parents were advised to consider amputation for my leg because one leg was longer than the other. It turned out I had poor circulation due to sitting on one leg. Needless to say, they got a second opinion.” — Benita, Massachusetts
“Several years ago, I knew I was starting to develop asthma. I would be up all night because I was having trouble breathing and I’ve always had very bad allergies, so it was only a matter of time before asthma showed up. I didn’t have a primary care doctor then, so I went to my mom’s doctor at the time and they had me see the nurse practitioner on duty. She listened to my chest and said she didn’t hear anything, so she prescribed me some nose spray and sent me home. No inhaler, no asthma treatment, no further testing. Just, ‘Here, spray this stuff up your nose, you’re fine.’ Turns out I do have pretty severe asthma that years later put me in the hospital. Guess the nasal spray didn’t work…” — Aaryn, Maryland
“My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer last February and, because her mother (my grandmother) had been through three breast cancers, my mother was as prepared as she could be for the diagnosis. She knew she wanted a double mastectomy after seeing her mother’s journey. When she discussed her treatment options with her oncologist, he replied, “You only want a double mastectomy because Angelina Jolie had one,” and refused to consider removing both breasts for almost a year. But feminism is over and we’ve achieved gender equality, right?” — Gabby, Colorado
“I was told that if I ate healthier food then my newborns baby’s acne would clear up (because I was nursing). I was already eating healthy, so it was doubly annoying.” — Erika
“I once read an article that suggested chopping a red onion, putting the pieces in a jar and taking a good sniff of the contents right before bedtime could cure insomnia. I did not try this one!” — Martin, Oregon
“I was told to drink cough syrup with guaifenesin to get pregnant.” — Tracey, Virginia
“I grew up in an Italian-Slovak neighborhood where home remedies and old-time medicine were commonplace — the type of place where people meet at the corner drugstore for friendly chats. Since I was a child, I’ve been allergic to metal of almost any kind, but I never thought much of it, even when ear piercings failed (twice) in grade school. I decided to try again in college and came home for winter break with brand new stainless steel posts. A few days later, I awoke with serious pain to find my earlobes swollen and crusted, entirely covering the offending metal. After icing, steroid creams, antihistamines, and ibuprofen, we managed to get the posts free. Later that week, during one of those small-town chatty moments, an old Italian neighbor suggested one of the strangest treatment recommendations I’ve ever heard: Shave down an oregano branch and put it through the piercing hole, leaving it in for the six weeks it takes to set the opening. Then, I could replace the branch with safe metal posts. I still laugh when I picture myself walking around with herbs projecting from my earlobes. I never tried this, and I never pierced my ears again, either. An unusual twist to this story, though, is that I was in pharmacy school at the time and discovered that oregano actually is an anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial agent, which means that this old wives’ tale has some legs (albeit shaky, untested ones!).” — Nicole, Virginia
“I was having a mental breakdown due to severe anxiety, depression, and PTSD, shaking and uncontrollably crying. I saw a doctor in his office and his response was to call suicide prevention. So I drove myself to the hospital thinking, ‘I want to die,’ and I was admitted into the same hospital where that doctor worked. He knew there was a mental health unit there, but he had done nothing but send me home with a phone number.” — Maryl, New York
Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
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Lara is a digital editor for HealthCentral. She is the site’s staff writer, Sexual Health editor, and email newsletter chief. Previously, she worked as the patient education editor at the American College of OB-GYNs, where she became obsessed with learning about women’s health, and as a news writer/editor at WTOP.com. Connect with her on Twitter @laradesanto.