Ever tell your doctor that you have three drinks a week — without mentioning that you mean three drinks minimum? Or tell her you’re a non-smoker… conveniently forgetting that pack at the bottom of your purse that you break out when you’re super stressed at work? You’re not alone — multiple surveys on patient lying have found that about half of us fib during our doctor appointments because we’re embarrassed or afraid of being judged.
Sorry, but your doctor is probably on to you — and they’re wishing you’d just be honest. “Doctors know that no one is perfect. In fact, when someone reports a pristine lifestyle — 8 hours of sleep per night, exercise 5 days per week, no caffeine, no alcohol, no stress — we often raise an eyebrow,” says Nora Lansen, MD, who practices with One Medical in New York, NY. “The goal is not perfection. So, instead of trying to impress your doctor, your best bet is to open up.” Here’s where to start:
“Most people who use condoms don’t use them 100% of the time. Women also sometimes forget to take the birth control pill,” says Natasha Bhuyan, MD, who practices with One Medical in Phoenix, AZ. “It’s important to engage in an honest dialogue about your contraception method to help decide if there is a better one out there for you.”
“Women should not be embarrassed if they have itching, discharge, an odor, or any other symptoms in the vaginal area. It’s helpful to be honest so your doctor can figure out if you have an infection or if the symptoms are just normal for your body,” says Dr. Bhuyan. Being honest about below-the-belt symptoms also helps your doctor diagnose and treat you, explains Dr. Lansen.”For example, if an STI like gonorrhea or chlamydia is to blame for your symptoms and is left untreated, it could progress to pelvic inflammatory disease, which could lead to fallopian tube scarring and infertility.”
“Doctors are told to double the amount of alcohol a patient reports drinking, based on the assumption that patients will underestimate their intake,” says Dr. Bhuyan. Your doc’s not there to judge your happy hour habits — but s/he can help you modify your drinking or keep an eye on your risk for developing alcohol-related issues like liver disease and breast cancer, adds Dr. Lansen.
“It’s common for women to have urine leakage or incontinence even though it’s a taboo topic,” says Bhuyan. “In fact, the average adult will wait six years before seeking medical help.” Don’t wait that long — there are plenty of treatments available to you as soon as you speak up.
Use of supplements
Make a list and check it twice — you may not think it’s important to mention those vitamins or herbal supplements you take whenever you remember, but your doctor disagrees. “Some supplements can interact with other medications a patient is taking, so it’s important patients give their doctors a complete list,” says Dr. Bhuyan.
If you’ve had a little nip and tuck, make sure your doctor is aware. “Many women keep this out of their medical history,” says Dr. Bhuyan. “But it’s important for doctors to know if women have had any cosmetic procedures in the past or are considering them in the future.” Not only can your doc help you get to optimal health before your surgery, they can help you with aftercare, too. Cosmetic surgeries can affect your long-term healthcare, too. “It’s important to be honest about procedures like breast augmentations so doctors are aware when screening for breast cancer,” Dr. Bhuyan adds.
It’s understandable that you don’t jump at the chance to chat about that pan of special brownies on your kitchen counter — but your doctor needs to know about it. “When your provider asks if you use any drugs, the intention is not to tell you that you better stop doing that, but to figure out if you might be attempting to self-treat underlying anxiety or depression, in which case your doctor may have healthier, more effective treatment options for you to explore,” says Dr. Lansen.
When your doctor asks you if you smoke, she’s not waiting for the opportunity to give a lecture. “If you smoke cigarettes, your doctor is fairly certain that you know that it’s bad for you in general,” says Dr. Lansen. “But you might not know some of the specifics, such as a correlation with a persistently abnormal pap result. Usually, HPV clears on its own, and the change it may have inflicted on the cells of your cervix often goes back to normal. But tobacco use can cause that cellular change to persist, and that can eventually lead to cervical cancer.”
Disordered eating puts you at risk of developing low bone density, an abnormal heart rhythm, the loss of your period, and other serious health problems, says Dr. Lansen. “Your provider’s job is not to shame you into eating three square meals a day, but to help you restore a healthy relationship with food, so that you can bring your life back into balance and prevent long-term complications from inadequate nutrition.”
Pain during sex
If you’re experiencing more ouches than Os during sex, say so — to your partner and your doctor. “Your doctor may have valuable suggestions for you, such as the application of a vaginal moisturizer a few times a week, or a referral to a pelvic physical therapist, who can help you work on strengthening pelvic floor muscles,” Dr. Lansen. “Some of these interventions could radically improve your quality of life.”
Bottom line: ‘fess up — it’s good for your health. It’s never too late to start being more honest with your doc. “It can take some time to build a relationship of trust,” says Dr. Lansen. “If you’ve been struggling with something for a while, but a few visits have passed and you haven’t yet brought it up, don’t let that stop you from doing so altogether.” And if you’re afraid to be honest because your doctor isn’t being sensitive to your concerns, it may be time to find a new doctor. “It’s important to find a person who makes you feel safe and comfortable enough to be honest,” says Dr. Lansen.