The 10 Most Stigmatized Serious Illnesses

From persistent flatulence to painful warts, there are just some conditions that most people won't be caught dead disclosing or even seeking treatments for. The social stigma attached to these illnesses is one reason they don't get diagnosed quickly.

To relieve their pain, many attempt self-diagnosis on the Internet, using sites like WebMD and Wikipedia. We get it; foot odor can be embarrassing, but the excessive sweating may be due to anxiety or a hormone imbalance. That rash down below can almost seem disgraceful, but it can be a symptom of a different underlying condition.

Many conditions rarely manifest all at once; they'll show up as seemingly isolated symptoms over time. Only by visiting a physician can an accurate diagnosis be made. But more and more people are hiding their symptoms to avoid "being laughed at". They do this till the condition becomes so severe that it costs their lives in some cases.

This stigmatization doesn't only apply to physical conditions. Many put on a smile and go about their day while battling deep feelings of depression, perpetually low moods and panic attacks. Left unchecked, suppressing their feelings leads to a spiral of worthlessness, guilt, regret and withdrawal from social situations, usually ending in suicide.

It appears social stigma is a bigger disease than the ailments we're about to discuss. Here are 10 illnesses people are mortified to even discuss.

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10 Acne

Pizza face, crater face, zit nose; people with acne have a ton of rude names they are taunted with. Manifesting as tiny bumps or large bulbous nodules, acne affects 650 million people globally. As it is a condition of the skin, it can affect any part of the body, from face to torso to the back.

Considered a "rite of passage" for teenagers going through puberty, it also affects many adults. This is because acne can be caused by a number of factors. Lifestyle choices like diet and hygiene; psychological causes and genetics can also lead to formation of acne.

In a bid to hide the acne, people tan, repeatedly wash their faces, squeeze their spots and use multiple skin care products. More often than not, these DIY therapies aggravate the condition leading to scarring. The scars acne leave behind remain a cause of embarrassment for sufferers.

9 Jock Itch

That maddening itch that never seems to go away, no matter how many times you cross and uncross your legs, may be a sign of jock itch. Although it is more common in males, it affects nearly everyone at some point in their lives.

It's caused by the growth of opportunistic fungi in the folds of skin in the groin area. It generally starts between the thighs, but left unchecked, it can spread to the bottom and genitals. The friction, heat and humidity of these parts of the body aid the fungal growth resulting in constant discomfort.

It's considered embarrassing as most sufferers look healthy on the outside, but the itching and burning down below is unbearable. Scratching the itch can lead to the formation of red, raised patches that can blister and ooze. It can also be spread through contact with infected items of clothing like towels.

8 Psoriasis

The scaly red and white patches on the skin that characterize plaque psoriasis are only one of many symptoms of this condition. Sufferers are constantly trying to soothe the itching of the swollen and painful areas of the skin.

In America, 7.5 million people suffer from this chronic inflammatory skin disease every year. Symptoms include dry, cracked skin that's prone to bleeding, swollen and stiff joints and severe itching if the skin gets dry.

The angry red patchiness of the skin causes people to instinctively pull away thinking it's some kind of contagious disease. It isn't, but there is no real cure, as it's not purely a skin disorder. Treatments are available for managing the symptoms.

7 Bad Breath

It's great when you visit the dentist and they point out what you can do for fresher breath. It's absolutely mortifying if you only find out when people scrunch up their noses as you open your mouth to talk. Bad breath is relatively common, and is caused by bacteria buildup in the mouth. This can be rectified by cleaning teeth to remove any food debris, chewing gum or swishing mouthwash.

In non-food related cases (about 10% of the time), it can be the result of disorders in the body. Some conditions that can cause a foul breath include chronic liver failure, bronchial and lung infections, renal failure and diabetes mellitus. The only way to be sure of what to look for is to see a doctor.

6 Erectile Dysfunction

The highly embarrassing inability to satisfy a sexual partner occurs in up to 40% of all men. ED can be psychological or physical; thus requiring a doctor's consultation before any treatment is decided on. But to preserve their "macho" image, many men avoid seeking help.

The Internet provides access to hundreds of "pharmacies" where men can get little, blue pills to cure their perceived impotence. The problem with this way of thinking is that ED can be linked to an underlying disease. As this condition affects over 20 million men in America, sufferers should always seek medical advice.

5 Inflammatory Bowel Diseases

This group of inflammatory conditions that affect the colon and small intestine includes IBS, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. They all have symptoms like intestinal pain, cramping and constipation. IBS also causes inflammation and altered bowel function. During flare-ups, Crohn's and IBS causes swelling of legs, hips and joints. Painful stomach cramps that leave sufferers doubled over contribute to prolonged fatigue.

One report found that “...approximately 780,000 Americans currently have Crohn’s disease and 907,000 currently have ulcerative colitis...” With an even distribution between male and female sufferers, IBDs affect all races and ethnicities.

Because there is no known biochemical cause that could explain symptoms, researchers haven't found a definite cure. This lack of known physical cause leads many IBS sufferers to feel their disease isn't taken seriously.

4 Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are difficult to understand for people that don't have them. It's like "why cant you just stop?" But it's not that easy. Binge eating has been linked to comfort eating. Comfort eating is a common coping mechanism for people that are stressed, have suffered bullying and have low self esteem.

Anorexia, the fear of gaining any weight, has been linked to coping with childhood sexual abuse or coming from a dysfunctional family. Sociological pressures have also been blamed for making women try to drop down to a size zero. Bulimia patients binge eat then force themselves to purge soon after.

Eating disorders are psychological illnesses that have much deeper roots, manifested in the sufferer's eating habits. The social stigma attached to eating disorders makes victims suffer in silence.

3 Incontinence

Widely regarded as an old person's illness, incontinence affects more than 20 million adult Americans. Women who've had kids make up 80% of that figure. Childbirth isn't the only way incontinence can develop. Stress, an overactive bladder or presence of certain medication can all trigger or aggravate an incontinence problem.

It manifests itself through loss of bladder control. The idea of wetting oneself is so shameful that people shy away from even discussing it with loved ones. But recently, more celebrities are speaking up about it. Katy Perry, Samuel L. Jackson and Kris Jenner have all experienced it and have spoken about this condition.

2 Stretch Marks

Stretch marks are something that most women have, regardless of size, shape, age or race. But they are also very reluctant to show them, largely due to pressure from society to look flawless.

These scars are formed by the stretching of the skin, especially when there's rapid growth or rapid weight loss as in bodybuilding and pregnancy. Stretch marks can appear anywhere on the body, but are common in areas with larger stores of fat. To remove these scars, available treatments include laser treatments, dermabrasion, creams, oils and needling.

In recent months, social media has erupted with hashtags that encourage women to be proud of their bodies.


This is the the most stigmatized disease of all time. Many people automatically equate having HIV to being promiscuous or having a drug habit. This bias began in the early 1980s when AIDS was blamed on gay men and many people still have that mindset. In 2014, members of the British public still believe you can get HIV from kissing, sharing a glass, via a public toilet seat, even through coughing or sneezing!

The disease can be contracted in other ways, such as tainted blood transfusion or via a needle stick injury. A mother can also transmit the diseases to a child during pregnancy. With this disease, victim blaming is the name of the game.

It's almost as bad as with lung cancer, where people assumed it's caused by smoking. Yet more people die from lung cancer per annum that have never smoked than those who do.

The stigma is why many carriers of the virus choose not to disclose their status.

Sources: medicinenet.com, psoriasis.org, clevelandclinicmeded.com, ccfa.org, phrma.org, sfgate.com, nat.org.uk

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