“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.
But guess what? Your doc is on to you.
Slight tells like avoiding eye contact and fidgeting send clues to your doctor. Plus, they’ve 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.
2. I watch what I eat.
If you've ever said, “Sure, doc, I eat a balanced, healthy diet,” you're not alone. “People often exaggerate the extent to which they practice good [eating] habits,” Doyle says. It's OK to indulge every now and then, but be honest about your slip-ups.
Fess up because ... Enjoying a fatty burger or sweet frappé before an appointment could lead to abnormal blood test results and unnecessary treatment. “Telling the doctor you eat correctly when you really don't could [result in] being prescribed a medication to control your cholesterol, for example,” Doyle says. “This could produce side effects and be less effective than simply continuing to have good eating habits.”
3. It's just a vitamin.
Did you tell your doctor about that over-the-counter supplement you took to help you sleep or fight a cold? “Patients [often] neglect to tell us about the pills they take because it was over-the-counter or it was [a friend’s]. So they don't tell us, and we might miss something,” Ford says.
Fess up because ... Everything you put in your body -- air, water, food, medicine, vitamins, minerals -- affects your health. Some supplements may have side effects that can interfere with your prescription drugs or other conditions you have.
4. I take my medicine as directed.
Three out of four people have trouble taking medicine as directed. Some never even fill their prescription. Others don't tell their primary care doctors about drugs given to them by other doctors. Don’t mix meds without asking first.
Fess up because ... Medicine doesn’t work if you don’t take it. It can be dangerous if you take more than you should. You might even become resistant to it, meaning that the drug stops working altogether. On the flip side, stopping cold turkey could cause more health problems. And if you don’t take your full dose of antibiotics, your symptoms could come back.
5. I'll get to it later.
“I'll quit smoking after spring break.” “I'll get my mammogram next month.” “That colonoscopy you ordered is on my to-do list.” These are all common fibs, Ford says.
Fess up because ...“It's not that every single thing should be urgent. It's just that there's no reason to delay on things that make us healthy,” he says.
At the end of the day, your medical record is only as good as the information you give. “Failing to give the complete and honest story may result in ineffective or even dangerous treatment,” Leavey says.