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What Not to Say About Health Issues

Tips for Talking to Friends and Family

By

Updated February 17, 2013

Conversations with friends and family members about health issues can be tricky to navigate. Whether they're discussing diseases, conditions, or healthy habits, people sometimes make comments or ask questions that are well-intentioned, but can end up being rude or offensive.

If you're dealing with a health issue or you're trying to improve your health, you may have encountered people who make ignorant or insensitive remarks. Or perhaps you've found yourself in a situation where you just couldn't find the right words to say to a friend who was recently diagnosed with a disease, lost a loved one, or is trying to make healthy changes.

To help improve communication and clear up misconceptions, About.com health channel writers have developed our own lists of insensitive, offensive, or just plain silly comments that people say in regards to various health concerns. And, to help us all avoid those insert-foot-in-mouth moments, we've also included suggestions for alternative comments or questions that are more thoughtful.

Below are links to all the articles. Follow these tips — and forward them to friends and family members — so we can all try to think a little bit more before we speak.

Addictions

Man smoking cigarette
Javier Pierini
When people don't understand addictive behaviors, they can make some pretty insensitive remarks. Get advice about comments to avoid.

Bones, Joints, and Muscles

Man holding sore back
Yagi Studio
Some people think they know a lot about muscle, bone, and joint issues, but their advice is not always helpful. Here are some tips on what not to say on the subject.

Brain & Nervous System

Three women talking
Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy
People can say some ignorant and insensitive things about brain-related injuries, diseases, and conditions. Here's advice on how to avoid hurt feelings and prevent misunderstandings.

Cancer

Breast cancer ribbon
Don Farrall
Whether you've been diagnosed with cancer or you love someone who has, talking about the disease can be uncomfortable and upsetting for everyone involved. To help make conversations easier and more productive, here's advice for what to say and what to avoid.

Digestive Health

Woman holding stomach
Pierre Bourrier
Digestive health issues can be embarrassing and extremely difficult for people to discuss. Here are some ways to handle these conversations with care.

Fitness

Warrior Yoga Pose
Colin Anderson
There are lots of misconceptions and myths about fitness, so it can be relatively easy to unintentionally say something ignorant or offensive to a fitness fanatic. Here's how to talk to your friends about fitness-related topics that may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable to you.

Health Care

man talking to doctor
Juan Silva
Health care and end-of-life issues can be extremely emotional and sensitive topics. Here's how to handle them carefully, and not say anything you'll regret.
  • Funeral Etiquette: 5 Things You Should Never Say: Most people feel uncomfortable at wakes and funerals, and they find themselves struggling to find the appropriate words. Here are five phrases to avoid when speaking to someone who's grieving the death of a loved one.

Healthy Living

Dieter on Scale
David Madison
Some people can't understand others' desires to live a healthier life, so they make inappropriate or rude comments about someone's choices or lifestyle.
  • 5 Things Not to Say to Someone on a Low Carb Diet: If you're curious about a friend's new low-carb diet, it's fine to ask questions about it. But think carefully before opening your mouth, because there are some comments they could find rude or offensive. Here are 5 phrases that should be off-limits when having a conversation with a follower of Atkins or other low-carb diets.

  • 10 Things Not to Say to Someone Who is On a Diet: Someone who is dieting doesn't want to be told that she "doesn't look like she needs to lose weight." Making an insensitive comment to someone who's trying to lose weight can seriously derail her efforts. Here are some tips on how to be more supportive.

  • What Not to Say When You're Older: We've all sworn at some point that we won't be like our parents and say things that make those in younger generations just roll their eyes. But as we age, we find ourselves doing exactly that. If you want to try to bridge the communication gap between generations, here are some comments to avoid when you're older.

Mental Health

Mental health counselor
George Doyle
With so many myths and misconceptions surrounding mental health, people dealing with their own or a loved one's mental health issue are often on the receiving end of ignorant or inconsiderate comments.

Sexual Health

Couple kissing
© Simon Watson/Botanica
When people are uncomfortable talking about sex, they may nervously blurt out an insensitive comment. Here's some advice for more effective communication on sexual health topics.

Skin Health

Skin health
Stockbyte
Dealing with skin problems such as acne can be frustrating and upsetting, especially when people make rude or insensitive comments. Here’s how you can prevent hurt feelings.

Women's Health

Pregnant woman
Juli Balla
Conversations about pregnancy and other women's health issues can be stressful and emotional, so it's important to speak thoughtfully in order to avoid hurt feelings. Here are some suggestions on how to choose your words carefully.

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