The worst lies you tell your doctor

March 20, 2017

Going to the doctor can be scary or embarrassing for patients -- and this can sometimes lead them to lie to their physician. A little lie can't hurt, can it? When it comes to your health, it certainly can. You could be preventing an accurate diagnosis and hurting your chances for a longer, healthier life.

According to a 2009 survey, 28 percent of patients admit to lying to their physician during an exam. Although, healthcare providers suspect this number is much higher. 

Have you ever told a fib to your doctor?

Maybe you feel ashamed about your diet or just want to avoid a lecture about your bad habits altogether. Chances are, your doctor is on to you anyway. Most physicians can easily read the body language that tells them their patients aren't being honest. So, you might as well fess up.

Is fudging the truth at the doctor's office worth the health risks? Here are the top five lies that doctors hear – and the negative impact they can have on your life.

I quit smoking two weeks ago. You probably already know that smoking poses major health risks. But when you hide this information from your doctor, it can interfere with whatever treatment you are receiving for something else. Being honest about smoking allows your doctor to provide the best treatment plan possible and open the door to resources you can use to quit. Robert J. Klem, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician at Swedish says, “Remember, because smoking also raises the risk of heart disease, lung disease, stroke and other health problems, your doctor absolutely needs to know about tobacco use to ensure the best possible outcomes for you.”

I only rarely drink. For those who do enjoy alcoholic beverages on a regular basis, studies show that people tend to underestimate how much they drink. The rule of thumb is: One drink a day for women and two for men is considered a healthy level of consumption.  But when that number is, in realty, more than two or three drinks a day – even if it’s “only” wine – the health risks rise dramatically. “Too much alcohol causes weight gain, and affects your liver and blood pressure,” says Dr. Klem. “Drinking also raises the risk of ulcers, heart disease, stroke and breast cancer. There is just no upside to lying about alcohol use, so don’t do it.”

I eat a healthy diet. When you tell your doctor that you’re eating healthy when you’re not, it can make his or her job much harder. If you have type 2 diabetes, for example, food can have a direct effect on your symptoms and a lie can lead to serious complications. Don’t fail to mention whether you’re on diet pills, fasting “cleanses” or detoxes, either, because they may contribute to blood sugar imbalances, dehydration, kidney dysfunction and other conditions that may not be on your doctor’s radar. Help your doctors help you by giving them all the information they need.

I exercise regularly. This is a great example of “you’re only hurting yourself.” Physical activity is one of the most important ways to stay healthy and prevent disease, so there’s no good reason to say you’re getting lots of exercise when you’re not. If something’s preventing you from exercising regularly, use your appointment to discuss it with your doctor. He or she can offer new exercises you may not have considered and might really enjoy – so you’ll naturally exercise more often.

I only take the medications I’m prescribed. Whether you’re into specialized health supplements, using prescription pain pills or taking illegal drugs, your doctor needs to know. All recreational substances can pose significant health risks and cause dangerous interactions, so it’s important to be honest about them. “Doctors aren’t policemen and aren’t likely to think less of you for using drugs,” says Dr. Klem. “Besides, we’ve probably ‘seen it all’ anyway.” As with all your other habits and symptoms, your doctor needs this information to provide the best possible treatment for you.

There’s one more lie that may worsen all the rest: “I’ll get to it later.”

Even if you honestly plan to stop smoking, get your mammogram or start that diet, it doesn’t do much good if you’re kidding yourself about following through. “Don’t let your good intentions fade once you leave the doctor’s office,” says Dr. Klem. “Take your health seriously and take care of yourself when we’re not around to remind you.”

Have you been tempted to fib to your doctor? Share your experience below.