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Lie to Your Doctor, Fool Yourself

Experts say lying to your doctor can be hazardous to your health.
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WebMD Feature

How much do you drink? Are you taking your medicine? Do you have risky sex? And if you think your doctor would be displeased with your answers to these questions, would you tell the truth?

Oftentimes people plainly lie to their doctors, omit certain details, or shade the truth to make their behavior seem more acceptable. As the narrator of Denis Johnson's novel Jesus' Son confesses, "It's always been my tendency to lie to doctors, as if good health consisted only of the ability to fool them."

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If you're serious about your health, however, honesty is always the best policy.

"If you cannot be honest with your health care provider, you may be doing yourself a grave disservice," says Stephen Goldstone, MD, a professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, and medical director of GayHealth.com.

A Beer ... or Six?

No one wants to admit to having a drinking problem, or even to seem to have a problem. You may lie about how much you drink, even if you drink moderately, for fear of being labeled a lush.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines "problem drinking" as:

  • More than 14 drinks per week, or more than four drinks at a sitting for men.
  • More than seven drinks per week, or more than three drinks at a sitting for women.

A standard drink generally is defined as a 12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor.

If you drink too much, you know you'll get a lecture about cutting down, so you feel like there's no point in being honest about it. But doctors aren't there to scold -- they're there to help.

Many people who imbibe to excess aren't just living it up. They may be self-medicating their insomnia, anxiety, or depression. In such cases, booze isn't a good remedy, and a doctor can find better ways to help whatever is wrong.

There are plenty of other reasons not to lie about your drinking, not the least of which is that alcohol and many medications, including over-the-counter drugs, can be dangerous when mixed. Maybe you've heard the story about the guy who suffered liver failure from taking Tylenol with wine? It's not a myth. His name is Antonio Benedi, and it happened in 1993.

The same thing goes not only for drinking, but also for smoking tobacco and using illicit drugs. Everyone knows that smoking causes cancer, and that you can die from an overdose of heroin, but any chemicals you ingest recreationally might affect you in other ways you haven't thought of.

"You as a patient don't know what's significant," Goldstone says. "You don't know what your health care provider needs to know, and it's best to be honest."

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