You might think that telling a little white lie to your doctor isn’t that big of a deal. After all, does it really matter much if you fib about how many drinks you enjoy in a week or your occasional cigarette habit?
But lying to your doctor, even if it seems harmless, actually isn’t a great idea. Having an honest relationship with your medical providers is crucial to help protect your overall health and well-being, and your doctor needs to know the full truth about your lifestyle and experiences to provide the best care for you.
INSIDER spoke with Dr. Caesar Djavaherian, chief medical officer and co-founder at Carbon Health, and Dr. Gaspere Geraci, family physician and market chief medical officer for AmeriHealth Caritas, and they explained why those little lies you think aren’t a big deal can actually impact your doctor’s ability to care for you, and why being honest is always the best idea.
Don’t omit your surgical history, even for minor procedures or surgeries from a long time ago.
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You might not think to discuss a surgery you had as a child or a minor procedure you recently had, but you should be forthcoming about every surgery you’ve ever had when filling out your medical history, explained Dr. Caesar Djavaherian, chief medical officer and co-founder at Carbon Health.
“There could be a few reasons for this – first off, depending on the kind of surgery you’ve had, the possibility of having certain diseases increases,” Djavaherian said. “For example, if you’re being seen for abdominal pain but you’ve had your appendix taken out or had your tubes tied, you’re at a different risk level.”
“Another reason you shouldn’t lie about your surgical history is that if you’ve had a previous complication with anesthesia administered during surgery, it’s important to let your doctor know of this,” he added.
Dr. Gaspere Geraci, family physician and market chief medical officer for AmeriHealth Caritas, agreed, noting that “anytime you have something operated on, removed or altered in some way, it might influence how future instances or symptoms are considered. For example, if you had your gallbladder or your appendix removed 30 years ago and are now experiencing pain, it’s important for your health care provider to know that history.”
Even minor surgeries, like for skin lumps and bumps, are important for a doctor to know since they might fit into a bigger issue you could be facing, Geraci explained.
“Overall, having had surgery can put you at risk for certain diseases and it’s important to divulge this information in order to maintain an open line of communication with your doctor,” said Djavaherian.
This includes your pregnancy history, as well as information about your menstrual cycle.
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If you’ve ever had an abortion or a miscarriage, or simply have irregular periods, you should be upfront with your doctor in order to receive the best reproductive care possible.
“The real-world impact of revealing this information truthfully would be to help your doctor try to figure out what your ability is to successfully carry a pregnancy,” said Djavaherian.
He added, “We know that for a few months after miscarriage or abortion, your period might be irregular and we wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the case. But if you tell us you haven’t ever been pregnant and yet your period has been irregular, that’s a cause for concern.”
“Similarly, irregular periods may be a contributing factor to numerous other problems and though seemingly unrelated, being honest with your physician will ensure that he/she can take the best care of you,” said Geraci.
Your physician is not there to judge your decisions or your choices, so you should be totally honest about your reproductive health. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing that info – or any information about your health – you might want to look into finding a doctor with whom you feel comfortable talking openly with.
You shouldn’t lie about your known family health history, your age, or your baby’s age.
No matter how old you are, you shouldn’t fib about how many candles were on your last birthday cake.
“Age matters very specifically for babies, especially newborn babies, because knowing their age makes a difference in how they’re treated,” said Djavaherian.
“There are certain tests done [based on] age that you may be missing out on if you aren’t honest about your age,” Geraci told us. “For example, both age and family history are important factors when making a decision if any patient should get a colonoscopy. It’s equally as important when considering flu shots and adult immunizations.”
Don’t lie about your sexual history, including past and current STIs, partners, history of unprotected sex, and other sexual concerns.
Having an open and honest conversation with your physician about your sex life might feel scary, but it’s absolutely crucial, so don’t lie about past or present partners, past or present STIs, if you’ve had unprotected sex, or any other sexual concerns (like pain, discomfort, or dryness) you might be facing.
“While we all want to consider our sexual history as very personal and private, that’s one aspect of our lives we should share with our health care providers,” Geraci told INSIDER. “Our sexual history contributes not only to current risk but also future risk of certain kinds, including many diseases, some dangerous like cancer.”
“A history of STIs is particularly important for doctors to know in the context of gonorrhea, chlamydia, as well as the risk of ectopic pregnancy,” said Djavaherian. “Additionally, having a history of HIV, whether or not you’re on medication, can put you at risk for infections in general, and determine how aggressively we treat things like fever, cough, or other signs of infection.”
Your doctor is there to help you make informed decisions about your overall health, and this includes your sexual health, so you’ll want to paint a complete picture to help you choose the best contraceptive options for you, as well as treatment for any concerns you have.
Be completely honest about the medications you take, and if you’re actually taking them as prescribed.
Maybe you didn’t finish a course of antibiotics because you felt better, or maybe you had a hard time tolerating the side effects of your antidepressant. Or perhaps you just forgot to fill your script, took expired meds from your medicine cabinet, or you simply forget to take your meds on a regular basis.
Whatever the situation, you really should come clean with your doctor about what medications you take, including the dosage and frequency.
“It’s important to be honest about what medications you’re taking because reactions from certain medications could be life-threatening. For example, if you’re on any antidepressants or antibiotics, they can interfere with the metabolism of each other and cause complications,” said Djavaherian.
The same goes for vitamins, supplements, and anything you can buy over-the-counter at the drugstore. Many times, OTC medications are regulated differently than those that are prescribed to you.
“Medications, herbal remedies, vitamins and supplements that you take should always be revealed to your physician,” said Geraci. “There’s always a potential for interaction – a bad mix of something that a physician may be considering giving you or something you’re already taking. There are a lot of examples of medications (including over-the-counter items) that mix badly with prescription medications and other non-prescription vitamins or supplements.”
Don’t lie about how much you drink, smoke, or use recreational drugs.
Maybe you only drink alcohol on the weekends or you smoke the occasional cigarette. Or maybe you use recreational drugs but you’re afraid of your physician judging you for using illegal substances. Lying about your substance use – even if you genuinely rarely drink, smoke, or take drugs – is not a good idea.
According to WebMD, only one in six patients even mention that they drink in the exam room, so your doctor might end up rounding up whatever number you do give. “There’s a common phrase, ‘it’s none of the doctor’s business,’ but in reality, your info is the doctor’s business because there are risks associated with your habits, and those risks need to be taken into account when prescribing new medications or when providing advice and remedies for current ailments,” said Geraci. “If you hide or cover up your habits, you may be contributing to the problems that you’re currently having. Your health care provider will be aware of those connections that you may have never thought of. Your physician really needs to know and take into account all of your good and bad habits in order to fully take care of you comprehensively.”
Djavaherian agreed, adding, “When doctors evaluate patients, they look at their vital signs and other symptoms. Alcohol, drugs, and tobacco can impact your vital signs, such as your heart rate, as well as elevate certain symptoms like tingling in the fingertips. If patients inform doctors of their alcohol, tobacco, and/or drug use, they will be able to correctly identify the cause of unusual symptoms and know whether or not to tie it to these habits.”
“In addition, sharing this information provides your doctor with an idea of your risk for more dangerous health problems such as heart attack, stroke, erectile dysfunction,” and others, Djavaherian told us.
Be honest about when you last went to the doctor.
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Some of us get so busy that we forget to go for routine check-ups, while others experience anxiety about going to the doctor so they go as infrequently as possible. No matter when you last saw a doctor, you’ll want to be honest about it, so your provider can hopefully help reassure you about any fears you might have.
Being truthful about your last doctor visit can “help your doctor figure out which preventive care needs haven’t been met yet, such as vaccinations, for example,” Djavaherian told INSIDER.
“If you say that you saw your physician a year ago, but in reality, it had been ten years since your last visit, your physician might assume that you received care and tests that you did not actually receive,” added Geraci. “For example, if at today’s visit, your blood pressure is a little high – if you visited your physician a year ago and your blood pressure was normal, there’s likely less need to worry about today’s stats. But if you actually didn’t see your physician for ten years, you could’ve been experiencing high blood pressure for quite some time and that can be indicative of a larger problem.”
Your doctor is not there to judge you – they’re likely just happy you’re there now and receiving care.
Don’t lie about how much time you spend outdoors without sunscreen on or if you use tanning beds.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that too much sun exposure without the use of sunscreen can up your risk of skin cancer, too many of us aren’t adequately applying (and reapplying) protective sunscreen each day.
Similarly, if you currently (or used to) use tanning beds or have experienced even one bad sunburn, you’re at a higher risk for skin cancer, so you should be upfront with your doctor about your habits when it comes to the sun.
“You need to be honest about the amount of time spent in the sun without proper sunscreen use – and any related family history – because otherwise, you may not receive as comprehensive of a skin screening as you should,” said Geraci.
You shouldn’t tell your doctor that you exercise if you don’t.
By now, most of us know that a regular fitness routine has benefits for both your physical and mental health, but if you don’t think you have time to hit the gym – or simply hate working out – you shouldn’t lie and tell your doctor that you lace up your sneakers on a regular basis.
“It doesn’t matter what you look like – your level of fitness and activity may be a better predictor of your future health than simply your size or appearance,” said Geraci.
Djavaherian agreed, adding that “this goes back to assessing someone’s risk for certain diseases. If patients are sedentary, they are at a higher risk for heart diseases. As a result, it might be a good idea for doctors and patients to start a conversation around activity level and lifestyle. Even if you don’t listen to advice from your doctor, it’s helpful to have the conversation.”
Your physician isn’t there to judge you, and they might be able to help you find a workout routine that fits with your lifestyle … and one that you actually enjoy.
Don’t be shy about disclosing any pain or bothersome symptoms you’re experiencing, no matter how minor they might seem.
If you frequently have stomach aches or headaches, or experience some other pain that seems minor or unrelated to any issues, you should definitely mention these to your doctor, even if the pain isn’t life-altering.
“We seek healthcare in order to allow someone with much greater medical knowledge to gather all of the facts, draw conclusions and create recommendations from them,” Geraci told us. “Leaving out even seemingly minor irritants in your daily life may contribute to incorrect diagnosing and will prevent you from receiving the proper recommendations for better health in the future.”
He added that “some of the worst diseases in the world don’t have severe symptoms until very late. Often people ignore a minor symptom for too long when, if caught early, there may have been a better health outcome … Even physicians are guilty of this.”
“This information is helpful to look for diseases that are gradual in onset like cancer, or chronic conditions like food allergies, intolerances, IBS, inflammatory bowel disease,” and others, said Djavaherian. “Sometimes, these symptoms can be subtle, but your doctor can put together the symptoms with the rest of your health history in order to identify the cause.”
Be honest if you didn’t follow protocol for a procedure, like you didn’t fast beforehand even though you were supposed to.
If you were given specific instructions prior to an appointment, procedure, or surgery, you should come clean instead of pretending that you followed the protocol, explained Djavaherian.
“Typically, many anesthesiologists will cancel your surgery if you haven’t fasted before. The reason for this is that if you’re sedated on a full stomach, you’re at a higher risk for vomiting and could potentially choke on it, which leads to complications.”
Telling the truth is crucial, even if it means rescheduling your appointment for a later date. It’s always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to your health.
Don’t lie about your oral hygiene, either.
You might think you can get away with lying about how often you’re brushing and flossing twice a day, especially if you’re seeing a provider that isn’t your dentist. But you shouldn’t do that, as Geraci told INSIDER.
“It’s common to tell little white lies to our dentist, but believe it or not, oral health affects not only your teeth but also multiple other aspects of your health, including cardiac disease, pregnancy, and multiple other factors,” Geraci said. “So be honest about bad habits and accept the advice that you’re going to receive. Not being honest makes you more likely to suffer the negative consequences of both oral and broader physical health.”
Always tell the truth about your understanding of what your doctor is telling you.
“This is critical – many doctors think they’ve explained things completely and patients can feel like they don’t understand,” said Djavaherian. “Make sure you understand the advice your doctors are giving and that they make you feel comfortable asking for more clarification on instructions.”
“Patients are often afraid to ask follow-up questions or clarify a point they don’t understand because they want to respect their doctor’s time,” Geraci said. “But it’s actually essential to their health to ask those questions so they don’t miss an important point that’s key to the management of the issue they’re experiencing.”
“It’s easier to spend several extra minutes with your physician ensuring you fully understand their recommendation than walking away without the knowledge and answers you need,” Geraci added.