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The Lies Women Tell Their Doctors

WebMD Feature from "Redbook" Magazine

By Norine Dworkin-McDaniel
Redbook Magazine Logo
"I don't smoke." "I exercise regularly." "Yeah, I floss." If you've ever looked into your doctor's eyes and told her a half-truth — or even an outright falsehood — join the club. But those little health fibs can have serious consequences: Your dishonesty may keep your doctor from preventing heart attacks, pregnancy complications, even cancer. Read on to learn why it's worth it to come clean.

It's normal to fib about some things. "So sorry we won't make the potluck — can't find a sitter." You promise your mother you'll call. But the one person you should never, ever lie to is your doctor. Yet we do. All the time. A national survey recently revealed that 52 percent of women routinely stretch the truth when they talk to their doctors — exaggerating how much exercise they get, lowballing how much they smoke or drink, even hiding sexual behavior. We lie, mainly, because we know we're not being as dedicated as we should and we don't want to feel judged or endure a lecture we've heard before. (Hey, we're not stupid. Lazy, perhaps, but not stupid!)

Other lies just...slip out. It can be hard in a short visit to bring up behavior we might be ashamed of (even if there's no reason to be — docs have seen and heard it all before, and worse). We figure, what's the harm in omitting a few minor details — like that STD we had in college, or that one time we forgot to take our birth control?

In fact, more than a quarter of the women in the survey didn't believe their lies were a big deal. But lying to the one person who really needs to know the truth — and is bound by doctor/patient privilege and federal law to keep that info private — can be a very big deal. When you tell even a fib, your doctor can't diagnose you correctly, which wastes your time and money and may keep her from giving treatment that could save your life. So the next time you're tempted to make like Pinocchio with one of the following falsehoods, here's the truth about why you should tell nothing but.

THE LIE: "Of course I floss!"

"When I was in practice, I heard this lie every day," laughs Paula Jones, D.D.S., now president of the Academy of General Dentistry. "I'd ask, 'How often?'" And the truth would start to come out. "They'd say, 'Oh, a couple of times a week' or 'I only do this one tooth where food gets caught.'"

WHY YOU SHOULD COME CLEAN: Neglecting to floss leads directly to tooth decay, gum inflammation, and gum disease — and a growing body of research suggests that gum disease may contribute to cardiovascular disease. Some studies also suggest a link between gum disease and a life-threatening pregnancy complication called preeclampsia. If you cop to being a non-flosser, your dentist can make doubly sure to watch for and help you prevent these dangerous conditions.

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