14 things to never lie to your doctor about

How much you smoke, drink, eat, exercise and whether you use protection while out in the sun matters. Doctors weigh in on what matters most. By Lindsay Tigar. All images: Getty Images

1. Your surgical history

When you first see a new doctor because you switched jobs and or relocated to a new town, you’ll be filling out tons of medical forms.

A biggie in the long slew of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ checkboxes refers to your surgical history.

From minor procedures to major operations, US plastic surgeon Dr David Shafer says being honest about your past will help alleviate complications in your future.

Though many of his surgeries are elective, every surgeon needs background info to minimise your risk for scar tissue, reactions and more.

“I always find it concerning when a patient tells me they have never had surgery, and when I examine them they have what are clearly facelift incisions,” he shares.

Surgeons have our lives in their hands, but most of us know more about the people who cut our hair than the doctors who cut our bodies.

Here, insider tips to become a smarter, healthier patient.

2. Your age

As you begin to approach middle-age, start menopause or feel those aches and pains of getting older, you might be tempted to tell a little white lie about exactly what decade is on your birth certificate.

While it’s likely not a big deal to fudge the truth to a bartender, grocer or random stranger at networking event, your doctor needs to know the honest truth about everything, including how many candles were on your last birthday cake.

Not only is your age a crucial element to how they prescribe a treatment, but it’s information they’re going to find out, no matter what.

And lying about it? It could break that essential doctor-patient trust. “I know patients don’t like admitting their age, but it’s very important to be truthful,” Dr Shafer says.

“If a patient tells me they are 49 but they are 57, I have to wonder if the patient is lying about anything else.”

Heed these 5 tips to help yourself and others grow old healthily and independently.

3. What you eat

After trying to drop the unwanted kilos around your midsection without much success, you make an appointment to see your doc to figure out a game plan.

If you’re not being truthful about your habits, your doctor won’t be able to help much.

“Studies have shown that patients underestimate how much they are eating and how often they indulge in unhealthy food,” says Dr Tania Dempsey, an integrative doctor based in New York.

“Many patients don’t want to admit the difficulties they have with complying with the prescribed diet, so it is easier for them to deny that they are eating anything ‘bad’.”

Instead of feeling shameful for giving in to sweet cravings or not working out for a week (or several), explain what’s tripping you up so your doctor can give her best advice.

After all, since she doesn’t eat every meal with you she can only assist based on the info you share.

“If I think that the diet intervention isn’t working as expected, first I am going to question why, and then I might have to resort to more aggressive treatment options. If patients admit to their indiscretions, then doctors can work with the patient to develop strategies to keep their diet on track,” says Dr Dempsey.

Groundbreaking research shows how certain foods and lifestyle changes can deactivate the genes that cause us to store fat.

4. How you are using medications

When you can’t shake a cough or you’re experiencing an abnormal breakout, a doctor’s job is to not only diagnose you, but to help prescribe you the right concoction of medicine to overcome the illness ASAP.

However, if you come back complaining that you’re still not over the hump, it’s important to be honest when your doctor asks how often you took the pills or how you applied the cream.

“If you are not truthful about whether you are actually using your medications, then we cannot accurately gauge if they are or are not working for you,” explains US dermatologist Dr Joshua Zeichner. He explains that often when patients come back for their follow-up appointment, he quizzes them on how they specifically have been using a topical medication.

“It may come out that they used them for a week and gave up, are only spot treating and not applying to the full face as directed, or didn’t even fill the prescription at all.

Acne medications only work if you use them properly and for an adequate amount of time,” he says. And while Dr Zeichner specialises in acne and skin care, the same logic applies to all prescriptions.

“You are not helping yourself if you are not using them, and you are certainly not helping yourself if you aren’t being honest about not using them when speaking to your doctor,” he adds.

If you’re older and on medication, you are at risk from the major problem of over-prescribing.

5. Your smoking habits

One of the reasons you might say you only smoke socially, when really, you’re blowing through a pack a day?

It’s less and less accepted to be a smoker.

Every doctor – from a cardiologist to a dermatologist – will recommend you cut out the dangerous habit.

So when they ask if you’re puffing? You might want to lie, but US plastic surgeon Dr Andrew J Miller says to come clean.

“One of the biggest habits that patients are often not truthful about is smoking. Nicotine is very detrimental to healing and many surgeons will not perform certain surgeries because the incision may break down, causing significant scarring after a long healing process. Sometimes the patient has lied about smoking just to get the procedure done, but in the end they are just hurting themselves,” he says.
Need a greater incentive to give up cigarettes? Take a look at the 15 mind-blowing ways your body heals after you quit smoking.

6. The supplements you take

Though you might think there’s a battle happening between holistic doctors and primary care physicians, there’s one big thing they all have in common: they want to help you stay healthy and happy.

Dr Dempsey says that sometimes patients are embarrassed to admit they are taking vitamins, supplements or herbs because their doctor might scold them for believing in natural remedies.

The opposite, actually, is true.

They need to understand what you’re popping each morning to make sure they’re prescribing you what’s most compatible for your body.

“The truth is that many doctors believe vitamins are important for patients with vitamin deficiencies. Unfortunately, there can be interactions between certain vitamins or herbs and prescription medication. These interactions could lead to higher or lower levels of the medication they are taking, which could greatly impact their health. It is crucial for patients to be upfront about everything they are taking,” she says.
Want to know what the experts avoid? Here’s the list of foods, processed goods, ingredients, and chemicals that nutritionists won’t put on their plates.

7. Using recreational drugs

“Patients don’t want to admit to their drug use because they don’t want that information to become part of their medical record,” says Dr Dempsey.

Though you might be hesitant to fess up, she stresses that being able to properly diagnose and treat you relies on a complete picture of your health and vices.

“If the patient is not truthful with their doctor, the patient might get treated unnecessarily with powerful psychiatric drugs to combat other neuropsychiatric symptoms,” she explains.

“There are many other potential side effects of drug use so it is dangerous for you to be treated in the medical system without a doctor’s knowledge of this part of your history.”

8. If you’ve had an abortion

As a delicate, sensitive and private choice and experience, an abortion isn’t the easiest of topics to discuss, even with your doctor. However, if you want to one day have a family when you’re ready or you’re now struggling to get pregnant, reproductive specialist Dr Jane Frederick says your doctor needs to know your full medical history, including an abortion.

“There can be scar tissue and damage to the uterus. We want to make sure we have a good uterine cavity before we implant any embryos during IVF. Knowledge of an abortion will help us properly evaluate the uterus, offer a proper medication protocol and take extra steps to make sure the uterus is ready for implantation,” she explains.

9. How you’re really feeling – mentally

You’re allowed to answer ‘fine’ to an acquaintance’s ‘how are you feeling?’ But be straight with how you’re really feeling with your doctor. If you’re feeling ‘blah’ – tell them.

Kind of depressed, sometimes, maybe? Say that. Anxious and not sure what to do about it? Be open.

Says fertility specialist Dr Michael Alper, “No matter what, aim to share these feelings with your doctor if you feel unhappy or ‘stuck’.

We understand the emotions you may be feeling. By speaking your mind and being honest, no matter how imperfect you may feel, it helps you to feel better. And it helps us,” he says.

“An honest dialogue frees your mind when speaking with a doctor. It will do wonders for helping you to process information in a clear manner, recall questions you may have previously had, and give you a renewed sense of confidence and control.”

10. Your sexual history

How many partners you’ve had, when you last had sex, if it was unprotected and if you’ve had an STD. All of these are pretty private questions, but they’re also ones that Dr Jaime M Knopman, director of fertility preservation at the Colorado Centre for Reproductive Medicine, New York, says are must-knows for doctors.

She reiterates that doctors won’t judge you; they’re trying to help.

“We just want to know so that we can keep you safe and educate you on safe sex practice. If we don’t know what you are doing and who you are doing it with, we can’t test you for the appropriate conditions or come up with the best way to keep your reproductive organs healthy,” she explains.

11. When you last went to the doctor

You haven’t had a teeth cleaning since 2010. You have– eek! – never been to an eye doctor. You had a physical, maybe two years ago?

You might have a less-than-stellar track record of keeping up with medical appointments, but here’s the thing: your doctor doesn’t care.

In fact, they’re just glad you’re sitting on the examining table NOW, ready for a check-up. Instead of skirting the truth about the last time you sought care, be up front so your new physician can treat you accurately.

“If you are new to a physician, we don’t know what happened and how frequently it happened in the past. Routine screening keeps you safe. Don’t lie about when you went to the doctor last and what they did or did not check. It won’t help us know how best to take care of you in the future,” Dr Knopman says.

12. That you’re nervous

Even if you don’t have Iatrophobia – the fear of a going to a doctor – it’s pretty common to feel nervous when you’re sick.

If you’re Googling your symptoms, you might be expecting the worst, but your doctor is there to make you feel comfortable and at ease.

A little secret to getting the best care? Be honest about the fact that you’re scared.

“Oftentimes, anxiety shows itself by being mean or rude to staff or doctors. We are here to help you and are very used to helping people get through dental treatment. We would love to give you options to ease your anxiety or nerves, but it helps if we know,” explains Dr Nancy E Gill, a dentist in Golden, Colorado.

13. How much time you spend in the sun

Even on the coolest day of winter or when it’s overcast and raining, dermatologists recommend wearing sunscreen or other forms of sun protection to shield your pores from harmful, dangerous rays. So when your doctor inquires about how much time you’re spending outdoors, they’re asking so they can understand your hobbies, habits and how much sun damage risk you’re exposing yourself to.

“Most people do not realise that they get sun exposure on a daily basis going in and out of their car, or going to get mail, as well as when they are actively outside whether for work or play,” explains Dr Purvisha Patel a dermatologist in Tennessee.

“Skin cancer is caused by the sun, so getting patients to be compliant with sun protection is important and understanding their lives helps tailor their prevention techniques.”