Have you ever fibbed, fudged or hedged when a doctor asked you a question about your health habits? If you answered, “Well….ummmm…maybe?” – you’re not alone.

A 2009 national opinion telephone survey of 2,000 patients discovered 28 percent said they “sometimes lie to their health care professional or omit facts about their health.” A 2004 WebMD survey found that:

•38 percent of patients lied or “stretched the truth” about following their doctor’s orders

•32 percent lied about their diet or how much they exercised

•22 percent lied about smoking

•17 percent lied about sex

•16 percent lied about their intake of alcohol

•12 percent lied about recreational drug use

Honesty with doctors is the foundation of quality care. Inaccurate information can lead to misinterpreted symptoms, overlooked warning signs, wrong diagnoses, inappropriate treatments, wrong medications – all with the potential to cost a patient’s health, or even a life.

So why do people hedge – or downright lie – to doctors and sabotage their own positive health outcomes?

Often patients are reluctant to share information that’s painful or embarrassing. Everyone wants to present his or herself in the best possible light, and most of us fear being judged. Some people will do anything to avoid being lectured, others want to please their doctors and some think that things are just too insignificant to even bother mentioning.

What are some of the possible pitfalls in lying to your internist?

“I’m not a big drinker.”

When doctors ask patients how many alcoholic beverages they drink in a day, this answer is crucial to the overall treatment plan. More than 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits can interfere with the treatment plan, increase the side effects of medications and result in more frequent hospital admissions.

If you’re seeing your internist to help manage your diabetes, it’s crucial to be honest about your drinking habits. Excess alcohol can actually decrease your blood sugar — sometimes causing it to drop to dangerous levels.

Additionally, imbibing more than three drinks in one sitting temporarily increases your blood pressure, and repeated binge drinking can lead to long-term increases. If you’re taking blood pressure medication and/or insulin, your optimal doses are dependent on your honesty about your drinking habits.

“I have the healthiest diet of anyone I know.”

If you’re being treated for diabetes or high cholesterol, and are sneaking your favorite saturated fats and processed sugars on the side, your internist is going to wonder why your lab tests are abnormal if your diet is so good. This might lead your doctor to prescribe more medication, which can have disastrous consequences.

If you fess up and let your doctor know that you’re struggling to eat a clean diet, he or she can work with you to make changes to your diet first before adding more medication. If you have a condition such as type 2 diabetes, you are putting yourself at risk for serious health complications—including eye diseases such as glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy—if you continue to partake in foods that contribute to this condition.

“I quit smoking years ago.”
A 2013 study found that one in 10 smokers admitted to lying to a healthcare provider about smoking in order to avoid “getting a lecture” from their physician. This important concealment interferes with your treatment for conditions like asthma and bronchitis, and it prevents your doctor from supporting you with a smoking cessation program. If you’re seeing your internist for cardiovascular disease, continuing to smoke raises your risk for heart attack and stroke, so your doctor needs to know.
“I take all of my medications as prescribed.”
If you stop taking your meds or change your dose without consulting your internist first, it’s important to say so. Your non-compliance may cause him or her to prescribe additional unnecessary, and possibly dangerous, medications that increase the risk of side effects and interactions with other drugs. For example: lying about taking blood pressure medication may result in a prescription for a higher dose, which can result in shock. If you don’t like the side effects, or find your medications too expensive to afford, let your doctor help you find a more tolerable and less expensive option.

Remember that your internal medicine physician abides by The Hippocratic Oath: “I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know.”

It’s safe to trust him or her with your secrets, no matter how embarrassed you feel. Your life may depend on it.

Are you looking for a doctor who will listen to you, respect your confidences and care about you Revere Health Internal Medicine providers offer health management counseling for chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis and sleep disorders. Our internists are specially trained in internal medicine and offer a wide variety of care for diseases, disease prevention and other illnesses in adolescents and adults.

 

Revere Health Internal Medicine providers specialize in diagnosing and treating adults.

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