We all tell little white lies from time to time–I’m fine. Yes, you look good in that. No, I didn’t forget your birthday. Yes, I would love to bake cookies for the bake sale–and that’s totally fine. No judgement here. What’s not fine is telling lies to your doctor. Before you scoff and say ‘I would never!’ surveys say that 28 per cent of people lie to their doctors and Dr. Brett Belchetz says that the number should probably be higher than that (sneaky people lying on a survey about lying).
If you’re embarrassed about telling your doctor something, don’t be. Doctors see weird stuff, that’s their job. You definitely don’t have the weirdest problem out there. Your health is more important than looking good to your physician. They’re not here to judge you; they’re here to help you get or stay healthy.
Here are the six most common lies doctors hear and why you should STOP LYING TO YOUR DOCTOR.
1. ‘I don’t drink/smoke/use recreational drugs.’
May seem harmless–you told that one to your parents through all of high school–but this one can really hinder a doctor’s ability to help you. When you drink or use drugs, there are abnormalities that are going to come up in medical tests. If you’ve said that you don’t smoke or drink, the doctor is going to have to look for other causes to those abnormalities.
It also means your doctor isn’t going to know to look for certain conditions you would be at higher risk of developing. For smoking in particular, your doctor isn’t going to know to screen you thoroughly for smoking-related medical conditions like lung cancer, emphysema and COPD.
Finally, these substances can interact with medications or other treatments that your doctor prescribes for you, with possibly deadly consequences. Don’t be ashamed, just tell your doctor what you do.
2. ‘I didn’t eat or drink prior to this surgery.’
We cannot emphasize enough how dangerous this is. When your body is operating normally, a little valve–called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES)–at the base of your esophagus keeps the food you’ve eaten down in your stomach. When you’re under anesthesia, that valve relaxes. If there’s food in your stomach when it does that, the food can creep back up your esophagus and down your trachea to the lungs and cause intense pneumonia or even kill you. No matter how bad you want that surgery over with, don’t lie if you’ve eaten recently. Better to postpone your surgery than die in the OR.
3. ‘I exercise regularly and watch what I eat.’
Medically, ‘regular’ exercise is typically two to three times a week. Similar to the drinking lie, the problem with exaggerating the amount you exercise is that it means your doctor is going to be looking for other causes to your health problems or abnormalities. When you go in for a checkup, doctors are looking at your blood pressure, your cholesterol and your blood sugar levels. The first step to treat high BP, cholesterol or blood sugar is exercise and diet. If they think you’re already taking care of that, they’re going to put you on medication to manage those levels, which all have side-effects. You’re not doing yourself any favours by lying about this one.
4. ‘I take my medicine like you told me to.’
Your doctor isn’t going to get mad at you for not taking your meds. They are going to try to figure out why you’re not doing it and what needs to change for you to get back on them. If you’re not taking your medication because of side-effects, tell your doctor so they can help.
When a doctor asks if you’re taking your medication, they’re checking how effective it is in treating the problem. If they see it’s not working (and you’ve said you’re taking it regularly), your doctor will either raise your dose, switch your medication or add on another one. That can mean more and riskier side-effects without actually fixing the reason you’re not taking the original medication regularly.
5. ‘I don’t take a lot of over-the-counter medications or supplements.’
You might have told this lie by accident. A lot of people think they don’t need to tell their doctors when they take cold medication, vitamins or energy supplements, but that’s not the case. You should tell your doctor about pretty much anything you’ve taken from the pharmacy because everything you put into your body has chemicals that can effect your physiology. Some of them have side-effects and some of them can interact with prescription medications that your doctor might put you on.
6. ‘I don’t have any sexual health issues.’
Yes, it can be embarrassing and uncomfortable, but sexual health is part of overall health. Most notably, if you’re not honest with your doctor, symptoms of STIs can go unnoticed which can cause serious complications for both you and your partner. There are also a lot of effective treatments for STIs available. You might be living with a problem that can be easily solved with treatment.
Other problems like lower libido or erectile dysfunction can be embarrassing to talk about, but they could also be indicators of serious underlying health issues. If you don’t tell your doctor about them, they’re not going to know to investigate further.
Moral of the story: the doc is here to help you. Don’t lie to them. Ever.