40 Things You Should Never Lie to Your Doctor About After 40
In the end, you're only hurting yourself.
Even if you’re usually an honest person, you’re far from alone if you find yourself stretching the truth at the doctor’s office. In one study published in JAMA Network Open, between 60 and 80 percent of people surveyed admitted lying to their healthcare providers about pertinent information. The reason? “Most people want their doctor to think highly of them,” Angela Fagerlin, the study’s senior author and chair of population health sciences at University of Utah Health, explained. “They’re worried about being pigeonholed as someone who doesn’t make good decisions.”
And while you might not think it’s a big deal to lie to your doctor about what you eat or which supplements you take, one tiny omission could be the difference between getting the care you need or receiving an inaccurate diagnosis. Herein, we’ve rounded up everything you need to stop lying to your doctor about.
Your Past and Present Smoking Habits
The older you are, the more important it is that you inform your doctor about your smoking habits. According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer primarily occurs in older individuals, with the average lung cancer patient diagnosed at about 70 years-old. And even if you are a former smoker and no longer touch tobacco, you should still let your doctor know; unfortunately, it’s always possible that those bad decisions you made when you were younger are coming back to haunt you as an adult.
Shaving a few years—or even a few decades—off of your age at the doctor’s office might feel more like stretching the truth than telling a lie, but it can ultimately prevent your doctor from doing their job properly. For instance, if you were to say you’re in your 30s instead of revealing that you’re actually in your late 40s, your doctor might mistake those hot flashes as a symptom of hyperthyroidism instead of a symptom of menopause.
Your Drinking Habits
“Drinking is going to affect the body much more prominently in your 40s,” explains Dr. David Greuner of NYC Surgical Associates. Excessive drinking can cause a myriad of health issues that range from heart disease to hepatitis—but the more honest you are about your drinking habits, the better your odds will be.
Patients who are diagnosed with alcoholic cirrhosis, for instance, have a five-year survival rate of 90 percent when they stop drinking compared to a five-year survival rate of 70 percent when they continue to hit the bottle. Plus, if your provider doesn’t know that you’re a heavy drinker, then they might just end up prescribing you something that really doesn’t mix well with alcohol—but by the time you know it, it’ll be too late.
“Always make sure you are 100 percent honest with your doctor about your alcohol intake,” says Greuner. “The response may be to cut down—which you may not want to hear—but it’s essential for your health moving forward.”
Your Family’s Medical History
Be careful not to leave out any details about your family’s medical history when you talk to your doctor—genetics can play a major role in your physical and mental health. The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center notes that “some people are genetically predisposed to developing certain types of cancer,” and folks with familial histories of cancer can benefit from getting genetic testing.
Your Medical and Surgical History
“In spite of all the technology available today, the history is still the mainstay of diagnosis,” notes one report written in Physician Connection. “The impact of social, environmental, hereditary, and behavioral factors on patient well-being and illness must be realized in the patient’s history.” Everything from allergies to medications to previous surgeries can have an impact on a doctor’s diagnosis and course of treatment.
Typically it’s impossible to lie to your doctor about how much you weigh, given that doctors’ offices have scales at the ready. But it’s important to tell your GP the truth about your size, even if you may be uncomfortable with it—especially if your weight borders on obese. Research published in the journal Pharmacotherapy, for instance, found that standard doses of certain antibiotics didn’t work for obese individuals. Remember: with your doctor, honesty is always the best policy.
Telling your doctor that you start every morning with a balanced breakfast when you’re really a regular at the McDonald’s drive-thru may result in unnecessary treatments and medications.
As Brian Doyle, MD, of the UCLA School of Medicine explained to WebMD: “Telling the doctor you eat correctly when you really don’t could [result in] being prescribed a medication to control your cholesterol, for example. This could produce side effects and be less effective than simply continuing to have good eating habits.”
Patients don’t really lie about their symptoms so much as they simply forget to mention them—but everything you omit makes it harder for you to get an accurate diagnosis. Every symptom—even if it doesn’t seem like a symptom at all—brings your doctor closer to the cause of your pain and suffering—and likewise, anything you leave out can lead to a misdiagnosis.
Which Medications You’re Taking
All of the medications you take—whether they’re prescribed or unprescribed—should be revealed during the informational portions of your doctors’ appointments. Every medication, from over-the-counter sleep aids to prescription anxiety pills, has its own fair share of side effects, and failing to mention that you’re taking something could prevent your doctor from accurately diagnosing the root of your discomfort—or worse.
“The most dangerous [lie] is not being honest about what medications [you] are taking,” says Glen Stream, a primary care physician with the Rockwood Clinic in Washington. “Sometimes patients see more than one physician because they try to compartmentalize their health issues or view them to be unrelated. Perhaps they’re taking a psychiatric medication that they don’t tell you about and you’re seeing them for their blood pressure. You could prescribe something that could have a potentially fatal complication.”
Your Drug Use
Let this cautionary tale from American Academy of Family Physicians president Dr. John Cullen be a warning to you when it comes to being honest with your doctor about your drug use. Because one of his patients wasn’t upfront about the drugs he was taking, he was misdiagnosed with appendicitis and came dangerously close to getting his appendix removed for no reason.
“Methamphetamine can sometimes present the same way as appendicitis,” says Dr. Cullen. “As we’re getting ready to take [the patient] to the operating room, I remember saying, ‘We’re about to cut you open here. Are you sure you don’t want to tell me anything else?’ That’s when we found out about the methamphetamine use. Indeed, that was the cause, and we stopped the surgery.”
Your Mental Health
Your physical and emotional pain have more in common than you think. Per one study published in The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, physical symptoms that commonly accompany depression include joint pain, back pain, stomach issues, fatigue, and appetite changes—just to name a few. And depression and anxiety aren’t always necessarily the primary diagnosis; in some scenarios, they’re merely symptoms of other serious health issues, like pulmonary embolisms and heart attacks.
The Severity of Your Pain
Your doctors and nurses ask you about your pain levels because they need to ensure that treatment is effective and appropriate.
“Unfortunately, [cancer] patients sometimes lie and mask certain troubling side effects out of fear that I may discontinue that particular treatment,” Kashif Ali, a medical oncologist with Maryland Oncology Hematology, explained to Prevention. “But oftentimes they can stay on the regimen, as long as I adjust the dose, or even switch to another treatment that’s just as effective.”
The Date of Your Last Period
The onset of menopause isn’t the only explanation for a missed period in middle age. As long as you’re still fertile, you can still get pregnant—so if your period doesn’t arrive, you should let your doctor know just to make sure that it is menopause and not a new wombmate.
Your Exercising Habits
People who don’t get enough exercise are often so embarrassed about this fact that they end up lying to their doctor about it. In fact, when Medicare surveyed some 1,239 patients, 37 percent of them admitted that they “usually” or “sometimes” lie to their healthcare providers about how much they diet or exercise. However, the last thing any good doctor is going to do is shame you for your habits—and if they don’t actually know how much activity you’re getting, then they don’t know how to properly assess—and alleviate—your issues.
“We’re not trying to shame you because you’re doing something wrong,” Dr. Isabel Valdez, an instructor at Baylor College of Medicine, explained. “If you’re not able to exercise because you’re working two jobs and you’re a caregiver to your mother with Alzheimer’s, I’m not going to shame you for not exercising. But tell me that so we can work around that and find another game plan.”
Your Sex Life
Of the 1,239 patients who took a Medicare survey, 32 percent admitted to lying to their doctor about their sex life.
If you have an active sex life as you age—especially if you have multiple partners—it’s important to clue your doctor into your lifestyle. After all, research published in the International Journal of STD & AIDS found that “rates of sexually transmitted infections in older patients are increasing,” and more and more women over the age of 50 are likely to be diagnosed with HIV and trichomoniasis.
Your Supplement Regimen
“Always tell the truth if you’re on any vitamins and herbs,” says Dr. Michelle C. Reed, a physician, health coach, and owner of MS Family Medicine Health Care, P.C. “Vitamins and herbs do have side effects and sometimes the side effects will affect the efficacy of prescription medicine.”
The Date of Your Last Check-Up
When your doctor is looking at your previous bloodwork and test results, they need to know precisely how old that information is. Why? When you reach your 40s and 50s, you need to start getting tested regularly for things like colorectal cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis, but lying about the date of your last check-up can lead your doctor to skip the very tests that might just save your life.
How Often You Use the Restroom
Is it awkward to talk about how often you defecate and the solidity of your stools? Absolutely. However, it’s also a necessity, at least when it comes to conversations with your doctor. Irregular bowel movements become more common with age, and without proper medical care, constipation and diarrhea don’t always clear up on their own. In fact, long-term blockage can lead to serious complications like rectal prolapse and fecal impaction that require surgery and a stint in the hospital.
How Much Shut-Eye You Get
While sleep deprivation is never good, it’s especially detrimental to the over-40 community. Studies have shown that individuals over 40 who don’t get enough sleep are unintentionally advancing the aging of their mind and body—so much so, in fact, that in 2015 Public Health England started a campaign to inform over-40 folks about the perils of skimping on sleep. Inadequate amounts of shut-eye can cause everything from type 2 diabetes to hypertension, so make sure that you’re being candid with your doctor about your sleep schedule.
Taking Prescribed Medications
If your doctor previously prescribed you something like a cholesterol medication or sleeping pills and you’re not actually taking them, it’s better to be honest about it than to lie just to avoid an uncomfortable situation. “If you are not taking your medicine as directed, your provider may increase or add another medicine and it might not be a necessary addition,” explains Reed.
Your Financial Situation
The United States might technically be one of the wealthiest countries in the world, but that doesn’t mean that each and every one of its citizens has boatloads of money to spend on healthcare. On the contrary, the Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation reports that a staggering 27.4 million non-elderly individuals were uninsured in 2017—and this isn’t even taking into account the individuals who have healthcare and still can’t afford their procedures and pills.
Given how many people don’t have healthcare, it’s not especially surprising that many a patient will lie to their doctors about their financial situation. In Medicare’s survey, 1 in 4 people noted that they often lie to their providers about how much healthcare they can afford, both out of embarrassment and out of what they feel is necessity.
However, patients pretending that they can pay for medications and services when they can’t is a huge issue. When doctors aren’t accurately aware of a patient’s financial situation, they can’t work with them to figure out an affordable way to get them the care they need. And in the case of patients pretending to be someone else in order to use their health insurance, the issue isn’t just medical, but also legal.
Complying with the Doctor’s Orders
Don’t worry about offending your doctor when you admit to them that you actually haven’t been abiding by their recommendations. Sure, that conversation isn’t going to be fun, but it’s better than pretending that you have been doing everything you’re supposed to and putting your health at risk.
“A forty-something patient who is on medication for blood pressure or cholesterol but has never had a heart attack or stroke might not see the need to take their medication daily,” explains Fred Ralston, an internal medicine specialist with Fayetteville Medical Associates in Tennessee. “At times, I may seem doom and gloom, but I also seem people on the other side of that ledge and it changed their lives, so I try to get my patients to take it more seriously.”
Your Travel History
Where you traveled recently and how you got there could be the key to diagnosing some of your more perplexing health symptoms. If you just got back from a nine-hour plane ride and you’re experiencing severe leg cramps, for instance, then you might be suffering from a serious complication called deep vein thrombosis. And though malaria isn’t commonly contracted in the United States, it’s still relatively common in parts of Africa, Asia, and Central and South America.
Your Pain Threshold
“Patients sometimes lie to their medical professionals about their pain threshold or symptoms in order to get their hands on a stronger medication,” says Jocelyn Nadua, a registered practical nurse and care coordinator at C-Care Health Services. “Nurses and doctors can assess the situation best, so it’s important for patients to be as honest as possible about their conditions with them in order to receive the proper care and medications suited to their needs.”
Any Diagnoses from “Alternative Practitioners”
Your doctor needs to know about all of the diagnoses you’ve been given in the past—especially if they were made by alternative doctors who aren’t necessarily doing any proper testing. “Diagnoses made by alternative practitioners can cause genuine doctors lots of problems, particularly when they go along with certain fashion trends,” explains Dr. Laurence Gerlis, a private practitioner and CEO of SameDayDoctor. “Actually being ‘gluten intolerant,’ for instance, is rare, yet it is extremely fashionable at the moment, as is having adrenal disease.”
Your Sunscreen Use
It might feel like your dermatologist is being a nag when they ask you how often you wear sunscreen, but they’re only doing so because they don’t want you to develop skin cancer. And it’s all the more important that you’re honest about your sunscreen usage as you get older, as the Canadian Cancer Society reports that most cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are seen in patients between 80 and 90 years old, while melanoma is most often diagnosed at just 63.
Your Past Pregnancies
A surprising number of women lie to their healthcare providers about their previous abortions and/or pregnancies—14 percent, to be precise. However, both of these things are essential information for your doctor. Long after giving birth, moms can still experience hormonal imbalances, iron deficiencies, depression, and more, so make sure your doctor’s clued in.
Your Sexual Orientation
It might not seem like your sexual orientation is relevant at a routine checkup, but knowing this pertinent relationship information can better help your doctor diagnose you. Though many diseases are equally prevalent in all communities, others tend to be found more frequently in LGBTQ individuals. For instance, gay and bisexual men accounted for 83 percent of primary and secondary syphilis cases in 2014, according to the CDC.
Your Oral Hygiene
While you might not think that a white lie about your oral hygiene matters, something as simple as bad breath can be a sign of serious inflictions like chronic kidney disease, cancer, or an infection. And since gum disease has been linked to heart disease—the number one cause of death worldwide—it’s important that you’re forthright about your brushing and flossing habits.
Your Relationship Problems
Sure, your primary care physician isn’t your therapist, but that doesn’t mean you should keep them in the dark about what’s going on in your personal life. Why? “Stress can have many effects on the body and the mind,” Dr. Jonathan Kerr, a family physician and the president of the Ontario College of Family Physicians, explained to Best Health. “If your physician is not aware of what’s going on in your life, he or she can’t do anything to help you.”
Your Relationship with Food
If you think that eating disorders only affect teens and twentysomethings, think again. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, approximately 13 percent of women over the age of 50 partake in eating disorder behaviors. At least one person dies from eating disorder every hour or so, so don’t lie about habits like restricting, binging and purging, or laxative abuse if your doctor asks.
The Strength of Your Memory
You can run from dementia, but you can’t hide. By 2060, researchers believe that some 13.9 million individuals 65 and older in the United States will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. The good news? While there isn’t a cure yet for Alzheimer’s or dementia, there are things that you can do to keep your mind sharp and healthy, even after a diagnosis—and the more forthright you are with your doctor about your memory issues, the faster you can start an appropriate treatment plan.
How Much Water You Drink
Typical symptoms of dehydration include dry skin, fatigue, dizziness, headaches, and muscle cramps. The problem? Symptoms like these are hardly life-threatening, so people will often ignore them instead of figuring out their cause. However, dehydration itself can be a life or death issue—according to research from the Office of National Statistics, 48 individuals in nursing homes died of dehydration in England and Wales between 2013 and 2017 alone. And since older individuals often have a difficult time distinguishing dehydration symptoms from symptoms of aging, it’s important to let your doctor know just how much water you’re drinking.
Hear us out when we say that you should be honest with your doctor about how much you can (and can’t) hear. Though you might feel ashamed to admit that your hearing isn’t as sharp as it once was, you can take solace in the fact that approximately one-third of all adults between the ages of 65 and 74 suffer from some degree of hearing loss. The sooner your healthcare provider knows about your aural impairment, the sooner they can work on finding you a remedy.
Any Visual Impairments
Get ready to see your optometrist more frequently than some of your friends once you hit 40. According to the American Optometric Association, this is the age when people “start to have problems seeing clearly at close distances, especially when reading and working on the computer.” Though it is possible to go through life squinting and struggling to see, failing to correct your vision can cause headaches and may even make you more prone to falling or accidents while driving—and at the end of the day, feeling embarrassed for a few seconds is better thank putting your safety in jeopardy.
Your Compliance with Physical Therapy Recommendations
“It’s important to be truthful about performing your physical therapy exercises because a diligent supervised physical therapy program can oftentimes help with the healing of an injury,” explains Steve Yoon, M.D., a physiatrist and director of the Regenerative Sports and Joint Clinic at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute. “Not rehabilitating frequently enough may not stimulate healing and it can also inhibit support and strength that is needed to compensate for an injury.”
Losing Your Medication
Far too many patients lie to their doctors about “losing” their pain medications because they’ve taken more than the recommended dose and are now dependent on the drug. Not only is this illegal, but it’s also wrong and “develops a sense of mistrust between the patient and physician,” says Dr. Yoon. In order to avoid this scenario, the physiatrist relies on “open communication about the debilitating effects of pain and realistic expectations for pain control”—but in order to do this, his patients have to be just as honest with him as he is with them.
Your Fear of Going to the Doctor
Yes, even grown adults are allowed to be scared of the doctor. In fact, with all of the maladies that plague the older population, one could argue that adults are even more entitled to this fear! If you do get nervous about your visits to the doctor’s office, though, make sure that you’re honest about your worries so that you can address and possibly even overcome them. Otherwise, your provider might accidentally do something to make you even more afraid without realizing it, making you less likely to seek care when you need it in the future.
Depending on what you do for a living, you might be putting yourself in harm’s way without even knowing it. Flight attendants, for instance, are more likely to develop skin cancer and breast cancer, according to one study published in Environmental Health. And workers who are regularly exposed to asbestos are much more at risk of developing mesothelioma, notes one study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Fido is just as relevant to your medical history as any other member of your family. Though our furry friends don’t mean to, they can spread diseases to us that range from ringworm and salmonellosis to leptospirosis and giardia. And if you have a good boy or girl at home, make sure you check out these 15 Life Lessons You Can Learn From Your Dog.
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