The Lies Women Tell Their Doctors
THE LIE: "I don't smoke."
When Pamela Douglas, M.D., a cardiologist at Duke University Medical Center
in Durham, NC, asks women if they smoke, she often hears a little moment of
hesitation before they say no. "They believe you need to smoke two packs a
day to be at risk," she explains. "They say they don't smoke them all
the way down or they're not really inhaling. If they've only been smoking a
year or two or they don't smoke every day, they think they're not really
WHY YOU SHOULD COME CLEAN: Reality check: If you light up, even if
it's only one on the weekends, even if you just bum a drag from your friend,
you smoke. Beyond an increased risk for sinus and upper respiratory infections,
emphysema, cardiovascular disease, and, yes, lung cancer, lighting up — even
occasionally — raises your risk for blood clots and stroke if you're also using
hormone-based contraceptives (pills, patches, rings). "If there's a pause
when I ask them if they smoke and they say, 'No' or 'Maybe once a month,' I'm
hesitant to give that woman a prescription for the Pill" to help clear up
her skin, says David Bank, M.D., medical director of the Center for
Dermatology, Cosmetic and Laser Surgery in Mount Kisco, NY. Tell the truth so
you and your doc can figure out a safe option together.
THE LIE: "I use sunscreen every day."
"Along with 'I'm not tan — this is my natural skin color,'
this one's at the top of the list of lies we hear all day," chuckles Bank.
"We ask every patient whether they use sunscreen every day, and about 10
percent to 20 percent of the responses we get are false or
WHY YOU SHOULD COME CLEAN: Skin cancer is the most common cancer in
the United States; since 1980, the rate of melanoma (the most serious form of
skin cancer) has jumped by 50 percent for women between the ages of 15 and 39,
according to new research from the National Cancer Institute. If you admit
you're not slathering on sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher, applied liberally to
exposed areas), your doctor may schedule more frequent screenings — this way,
if skin cancer does develop, it'll be caught early. Being truthful about
sunscreen use can also help him decide whether to prescribe certain meds, like
Retin-A for acne and wrinkles, that can make you more sensitive to the sun.
THE LIE: "I'm taking my medication the way you prescribed it."
Alicia, 31, often used her asthma inhaler up to five times a day, despite
her doctor's warnings. When he noted her trembling hands and pallid face,
"I swore I wasn't abusing it, because I was afraid he'd take it away,"
says the Orlando, FL, day-care teacher. "I didn't care about the risks as
long as I could breathe."
WHY YOU SHOULD COME CLEAN: If you tell your doctor your medication
isn't working, or has side effects, he can find one that suits you better
(which is what Alicia's new doc eventually did). But if you don't use it
correctly, you could end up even sicker. Take a typically misused drug like a
routine antibiotic: "If you lie and say you finished your antibiotics, but
you're still sick, the doctor will assume the first drug didn't work," says
Maurice A. Ramirez, D.O., Ph.D., an emergency-room physician at Florida
Hospital-Flagler Division in Palm Coast. "So he'll change the antibiotic.
Meanwhile, the bacteria become resistant to the drug we normally use, and they
crank along unimpeded, and you can go from a bladder infection to a kidney
inflection to a blood infection."