“Sure, doc, I eat all my veggies and exercise every day.” Many of us are guilty of these little white lies. The fibs you feed your doctor may seem harmless, but they can have a big impact on your health care.
Surveys show that at least 1 in 4 people don’t tell the truth, exaggerate, or purposely leave out details during an exam. Maybe you feel ashamed or just want to avoid a lecture.
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Slight tells like avoiding eye contact and fidgeting send clues to your doctor. Plus, he’s heard every tall tale in the book.
Doctors can’t assume you’re telling the whole truth, says Marc Leavey, MD, with Lutherville Personal Physicians in Maryland. “I have grandmothers who are not taking their meds and executives who drink.”
Here are some common lies doctors know you're telling and why you need to fess up.
1. I only do _____ on the weekend.
“I only drink on the weekend. I only party on the weekend. I only smoke crack or eat lard on weekends,” says Donald Ford, MD, when asked about his list of pet peeve fibs. He’s a family doctor at Hillcrest Hospital in Mayfield Heights, OH. “We fool ourselves into thinking that an unhealthy behavior is OK when we're in control of it and it's done in a manner that is socially acceptable.”
Take alcohol, for example. Most patients won’t admit to how much they really drink. Only 1 in 6 even mention it in the exam room. If you say you only had three beers this week, chances are your doc thinks you had a six-pack. Usually, “whatever a patient tells [us] is half of what they actually do drink,” says Brian Doyle, MD, with the UCLA School of Medicine.
Fess up because ... Drugs and excess alcohol don’t do a body good. It's important to talk about current and past habits. Why? “Maybe that brief fling with drugs in college really is the reason for elevated liver enzymes,” Leavey says. “Your doctor may not even begin to suspect [it's due to] lingering hepatitis.” So fess up about that beer binge you have every Monday night or the party drugs you take. Don't worry about getting into trouble. What you tell your doctor is “kept confidential, even to authorities in most situations,” Doyle says.