Are you taking your medications? Do you smoke? How much do you drink? Do you have risky sex? Is there heart disease in your family? We’ve all heard these questions before — every time we visit the doctor.
If you’re like most of us (about 70 percent, according to some estimates), we don’t answer truthfully. It’s no big deal though, right? Plenty of patients want to skirt a scolding about how bad it is to smoke, drink or eat crappy fried food. We don’t want to be embarrassed by describing our symptoms. Fibbing on the exam table might not seem like a big deal, but it is, and it’s dangerous.
Remember, the doctor isn’t there to berate you, she’s there to treat you. Doctors need to know the truth so they can have a clear picture of your health. Here are a few lies commonly we tell our doctors:
Lie # 1: I don’t smoke.
Jane smokes occasionally, maybe one or two cigarettes a week. She’s read that it’s the heavy smokers who are at increased risk for cancer and heart disease. So, to avoid a lecture from her doctor, she tells her she never smokes. What Jane doesn’t realize is that smoking just one cigarette a week can have deadly consequences for her. Because she’s on birth control pills, smoking increases Jane’s risk of serious blood clots and stroke. If the doctor knew the truth, he would strongly encourage her to stop smoking, or suggest she switch to another form of birth control.
This is the most common lie doctors hear. Not only is this one bad for your health, it prevents your doctor from being able to treat you properly.
Lie # 2: I rarely drink
Bob doesn’t drink all week, but watch out for the weekends! That’s when he really gets going. But, because Bob doesn’t want his doctor to think he’s an alcoholic, he tells him he doesn’t drink at all. On a recent visit to his doctor, Bob told him he was depressed; he and his wife had been fighting a lot. His doc prescribed a type of anti-depressant known as a SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor).
Bob’s doctor probably would have selected another type of antidepressant, or suggested counseling, if he only knew the truth about Bob’s drinking. You see, alcohol is incompatible with SSRIs. Drinking not only counteracts the benefits of antidepressants, it can also result in short term memory loss, confusion, hyperventilation, coma and death.
It’s amazing how many of us are teetotalers as soon as we enter the doctor’s office. This is especially surprising given that about 70 percent of us drink occasionally and one out of six binge drink, like Bob. Many classes of prescription medications can negatively interact with alcohol, including antibiotics, antidepressants, antihistamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, histamine H2 receptor antagonists, muscle relaxants, nonnarcotic pain medications and anti-inflammatory agents, opioids and warfarin. In addition, many over-the-counter and herbal medications can be life threatening when taken with alcohol.
Lie # 3: I take all of my medications.
Harold’s doctor didn’t understand why his cholesterol levels remained elevated after prescribing a cholesterol-lowering statin at his last visit; Harold told him he was taking the pills. Little did he know that Harold never even filled his prescription because it was too expensive and he didn’t have health insurance.
If his doctor only knew the truth, he may have prescribed a cheaper, generic medication. Instead, Harold leaves the office with a prescription for a higher dose of the same expensive medication that he never fills. His blood pressure remains elevated increasing his risk for heart disease, kidney disease and stroke.
You shouldn’t stop taking you medications for any reason without telling your doctor. If you lie to him, he may mistakenly believe that his clinical judgment was wrong and proceed on a different course of action that could be detrimental to your health. If you stopped taking your meds because of bad side effects, your doctor can prescribe a different medication with fewer side effects.
Lie # 4: I only take the drugs I’m prescribed.
David went to the doctor for his annual exam. The doctor was surprised that his blood pressure was elevated because, up until now, it had been under control with medication. What the doctor didn’t know was that David started taking the herb ginseng because his buddies told him that it increased mental awareness and boosted sexual performance (although he took it mainly for the sexual side effects). However, what David didn’t know was ginseng can elevate blood pressure, counteracting the effect of his hypertensive medication. Without the right information, David’s doctor is left in the dark about what to do next.
Lie # 5: I feel fine.
Barbara went to the doctor for her annual physical. She told her that there was nothing new since her last exam, which was a lie. If truth be told, she would have said that she had been experiencing shortness of breath and pain in her left arm and jaw for the past month. Barbara suspected something was wrong with her heart, especially since her dad, brother and sister had heart disease at a young age (which she also neglected to tell her doctor).
But she was in denial — heart disease wasn’t going to happen to her. Not knowing her symptoms, her doctor didn’t perform the right tests to detect heart problems and sent her on her way. A few days later, she suffered a heart attack. Lying to your doctor about your symptoms and family medical history is a surefire way to sabotage your overall health down the road.
I think you get the idea that lying to our doctors won’t make our illnesses or symptoms disappear. Indeed, quite the opposite — things will only get worse.
By lying, we loose the opportunity to prevent a bad outcome. If we’re really serious about our health, honesty is the best policy.
[Photo By bryanrmason]