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Dr. Pixie McKenna - Embarrassing Bodies

Thursday, 11 March 2010

We are joined by star of Channel 4's shocking health programme Embarrassing Bodies, Dr. Pixie McKenna.

Embarrassing Bodies, series 3 is currently on Channel 4, Friday's at 9pm

Pixie McKenna grew up in Glasheen Co. Cork. She comes from a medical family, with her doctor being a local GP and her brother Dr. Johnny McKenna is a specialist. She studied in University College Cork and although she moved to England in 1996 to a London clinic, she continued up until recently to fly from London to Cork to sit in her father's GP clinic once a week! Pixie does a regular slot on The Ray D'Arcy show, and also a weekly column for the Irish Daily Mail.

Her first experience in television was when she received information from a friend that a television station was looking for a TV doctor. She just mailed the production office her details and was called in for a screen test. She did really well and was brought back for two more. At this stage they told her she was 'fabulous' and she really thought she had the gig, and even spent a fortune in Brown Thomas buying telly clothes, had told everyone, and then was let down when they told her that she didn't get it. She said she was really mortified and she says it really showed her the reality of the television industry!

She was really embarrassed at the time, and ironically when Channel 4 got in touch with her to do a series called Freaky Eaters she was reluctant because her first experience with television was so mortifying. She ended up agreeing and the show was about people who were addicted to certain types of food, and then her, a nutritionist and psychologist would teach the volunteer about healthy eating. When this show first aired she ended up being called by the producers of Embarrassing Bodies who asked her to join the show, which she has and never looked back, winning a BAFTA in 2009, where she joined the team to collect the award.

What are the most common embarrassing illnesses that people suffer from?

1. Incontinence - bladder and bowel problems
2. Surface conditions - acne, scars, excessive hair
3. Traditional problems such as bad breath, sweating and flatulence

What would be the most common female embarrassing condition?

Lack of libido or pain during sex. Most women will not visit the doctor to ask about it and it can easily be a symptom of an underlying condition. Low libido can be caused by depression, low iron, thyroid problems or hormone imbalance. Painful sex can be a symptom of endometriosis or even cervical cancer. Women find it very difficult to talk to their doctor about it.

What would be the most common male embarrassing condition?

Erectile dysfunction. Men find it very difficult to admit to it, which is very worrying as it is a sign of heart disease.

With regards to prostrate problems men are becoming much better at going to the doctor to talk about them, probably because the media have done a great job of highlighting the importance of men's health.

Is there anyone from any of the series that stand out for you?

We've finished filming a series on children, and there was a 13 year old Asian girl that was covered head to toe with thick hair all over her body. She was having a hard time about it in school and had been to the doctors but didn't get much help. She felt really sorry for her, and decided when she met her that it didn't matter what had to be done, she had to help this girl and it wouldn't be right to let her live with this condition. She is now seeing an endocrinologist, as it was a hormone problem.

Why are people afraid to push their doctor to help them?
Many people are afraid to questions their doctor. If a treatment doesn't work, people are scared to offend the doctor by going back and looking for something else. (especially in Ireland because we have to pay). Also people feel as though the embarrassing condition is down to something that they are doing wrong, whereas it is normally a symptom of something else.

Is there any case in which you feel like you've changed someone's life?

I don't like to think that I've changed their life, because it is the patient that made the decision to come to us and get treated, so they've changed their own lives. We do frequently get messages even from people who weren't on the show, (viewers) to say that our advice helped them diagnose testicular cancer or breast cancer etc. There is one lady that was a young mum and she had lost her ability to pass urine. She was put, for the rest of her life, using a catheder, which she had to empty whenever she needed to go to the toilet. She hated doing it especially if she was out for a night etc. Now she is being fitted for a pacemaker so that she can control it herself, which is a life changing event for her.

How do you get people to take part?

For the first episode it was difficult because no one knew about the show. We had to be really careful to decipher between the 'nutters', the people who were vulnerable and who going on their show would have a negative effect on their lives, and the people who were genuinely looking for help. By the second series and since then there are inundated with patients.

How do you get someone to expose their embarrassing illnesses or their body parts on the television?

I don't do anything differently than when I'm in my own clinic. It is a clinic that they step in to and the consultation can last for over and hour with some patients. If they don't want to show their bits to camera we bring them into another room, and we never persuade or coax them to do it. In general once they are in there they switch to patient mode and she goes into doctor mode.
Also when someone really has a problem they are so sick of it that going on camera is the least of their worries.