These Are the Four Life-Threatening Things People Don't Tell Their Doctors

Speaking up could save your life.

man getting bad news at a doctor checkup, heart risk factors

There are certain questions doctors ask us at our annual physicals that we tend to answer less than truthfully—mainly the ones about how much we're drinking and exercising. But a new study published in JAMA Network Open found that nearly half of U.S. adults don't disclose even more vital information to their doctors, including details that could be a matter of life or death.

Scientists at University of Utah Health, Middlesex Community College, University of Michigan, and University of Iowa collaborated on the study, which included more than 4,500 adults in America, ranging in age from 18 to 91. The researchers asked participants about what they were uncomfortable discussing with their healthcare providers. According to the subjects' responses, people tend to not reveal that they're survivors of sexual assault, that they're facing the threat of domestic violence, that they're depressed, and that they have thoughts of suicide.

The results showed that 48 percent of patients chose not to disclose at least one of these four life-threatening details to their doctors. Why? Well, more than 70 percent said it was due to embarrassment. Other reasons included the fear of being judged or lectured, as well as wanting to avoid follow-ups, or having the threat placed on their medical record.

Younger patients and women were particularly unlikely to be forthcoming with these vital details.

"For primary care providers to help patients to achieve their best health, they need to know what the patient is struggling with," Angela Fagerlin, chair of the Department of Population Health Sciences at the University of Utah's School of Medicine and lead author of the study, said in a press release. "There are numerous ways providers can help patients with such as getting resources, therapy, and treatment."

Still, it's understandable that people wouldn't want to discuss such private information with their doctors, and medical professionals don't always ask questions that give patients the opportunity to talk about abuse and violence at home, in particular. "It's not required in the sense of checking blood pressure, but it is strongly advised," American Academy of Family Physicians Board Chair Wanda Filer, MD, told

Even if your doctor doesn't ask about your mental wellbeing or any issues of abuse, speaking up at your next appointment could save your life. And to learn more about important health issues that you should mention to your doctor, read 10 Things Doctors Say Patients Should Tell Them, But They Never Do.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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