Your surgical history
When you first see a new doctor because you switched jobs and healthcare providers or relocated to a new town, you'll be filling out tons of medical and insurance forms. (Know the secrets your insurer might be keeping from you
.) A biggie in the long slew of "yes" and "no" checkboxes refers to your surgical history. From minor procedures to major operations, Manhattan plastic surgeon David Shafer
, MD, says being honest about your past will help alleviate complications in your future. Though many of his surgeries are elective, every surgeon needs background info to minimize your risk for scar tissue, reactions, and more. "I always find it concerning when a patient tells me they have never had surgery, and when I examine them they have what are clearly facelift incisions," he shares.
As you begin to approach middle-age, start menopause or feel those aches and pains of getting older, you might be tempted to tell a little white lie about exactly what decade is on your birth certificate. Instead of fibbing, try laughing about your increasing years by working in some senior jokes
. While it's likely not a big deal to fudge the truth to a bartender, grocer, or random stranger at networking event, your doctor needs to know the honest truth about everything, including how many candles were on your last birthday cake. Not only is your age a crucial element to how they prescribe a treatment, but it's information they're going to find out, no matter what. And lying about it? It could break that essential doctor-patient trust. "I know patients don't like admitting their age, but it's very important to be truthful," Dr. Shafer says. "If a patient tells me they are 49 but then their insurance card shows a birthday indicating they are 57, I have to wonder if the patient is lying about anything else." These are the 10 crucial health tweaks to make by your 50s
What you eat
After trying to drop the unwanted pounds around your midsection without much success, you make an appointment to see your doc to figure out a game plan. If you're not being truthful about your habits, your doctor won't be able to help much. (Check to see if these 40 fast and easy weight-loss tips
"Studies have shown that patients underestimate how much they are eating and how often they indulge in unhealthy food. Many patients don't want to admit the difficulties they have with complying with the prescribed diet so it is easier for them to deny that they are eating anything 'bad,'" says Tania Dempsey, MD, an integrative doctor in Armonk, New York.
Instead of feeling shameful for giving into sweet cravings or not working out for a week (or several), explain what's tripping you up so your doctor can give her best advice. After all, since she doesn't eat every meal with you she can only assist based on the info you share. "If I think that the diet intervention isn't working as expected, first I am going to question why, and then I might have to resort to more aggressive treatment options. If patients admit to their indiscretions, then doctors can work with the patient to develop strategies to keep their diet on track," she says.
How you're using medications
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When you can't shake a cough or you're experiencing an abnormal breakout, a doctor's job is to not only diagnose you, but to help prescribe you the right concoction of medicine to overcome the illness ASAP. (Check out these common medication mistakes
.) However, if you come back complaining that you're still not over the hump, it's important to be honest when your doctor asks how often you took the pills or how you applied the cream. "If you are not truthful about whether you are actually using your medications, then we cannot accurately gauge if they are or are not working for you," explains Manhattan dermatologist Joshua Zeichner
He explains that often times when patients come back for their follow-up appointment, he quizzes them on how they specifically have been using a topical medication. "It may come out that they used them for a week and gave up, are only spot treating and not applying to the full face as directed, or didn't even fill the prescription at all. Acne medications only work if you use them properly and for an adequate amount of time," he says.
And while Dr. Zeichner specializes in acne and skin care, the same logic applies to all prescriptions. "You are not helping yourself if you are not using them, and you are certainly not helping yourself if you aren't being honest about not using them when speaking to your doctor," he adds.
Your smoking habits
One of the reasons you might say you only smoke socially, when really, you're blowing through a pack a day? It's less and less accepted, especially in the United States, to be a smoker. (If you need further convincing to kick the habit, check out what happens to your body when you stop smoking
.) when Every doctor—from a cardiologist to a dermatologist—will recommend you cut out the dangerous habit. So when they ask if you're puffing? You might want to lie, but Andrew J. Miller, MD
, a plastic surgeon in Manhattan, says to come clean.
"One of the biggest habits that patients are often not truthful about is smoking. Nicotine is very detrimental to healing and many surgeons will not perform certain surgeries because the incision may break down causing significant scarring after a long healing process. Sometimes the patient has lied about smoking just to get the procedure done, but in the end they are just hurting themselves," he says.
The supplements you take
Though you might think there's a battle happening between holistic doctors and primary care physicians, there's one big thing they all have in common: They want to help you stay healthy and happy. Dr. Dempsey says that sometimes patients are embarrassed to admit that they are taking vitamins, supplements, or herbs because their doctor might scold them for believing in natural remedies. The opposite, actually, is true. They need to understand what you're popping each morning to make sure they're prescribing you what's most compatible for your body. (Make sure you're up on the latest vitamin truths and lies
"The truth is that many doctors believe that vitamins are important for patients with vitamin deficiencies. Unfortunately, there can be interactions between certain vitamins or herbs and prescription medication. These interactions could lead to higher or lower levels of the medication they are taking, which could greatly impact their health. It is crucial for patients to be upfront about everything they are taking," she says.
Using recreational drugs
"There is growing drug use in this country, and doctors are being kept in the dark by their patients," says Dr. Dempsey. "Patients don't want to admit to their drug use because they don't want that information to become part of their medical record. They fear that it could affect their insurance policy or their employment."
Though you might be hesitant to fess up for all of the reasons above, she stresses that being able to properly diagnose and treat you relies a complete picture of your health and vices. As an example, if you smoke marijuana semi-frequently, you might have trouble with focus and memory or you might feel depressed or moody. When your doctor sees this and knows you're a recreational user, then they may attribute those reactions to your habit. If you don't tell them? You could end up with a prescription you don't need.
"If the patient is not truthful with their doctor, the patient might get treated unnecessarily with powerful psychiatric drugs to combat these neuropsychiatric symptoms, when all that might be needed is stopping the recreational drug," she explains. "Smoking marijuana and other drugs is harmful to the lungs and doctors need to know this in order to screen patients appropriately. There are many other potential side effects of drug use so it is dangerous for you to be treated in the medical system without a doctor's knowledge of this part of your history."
If you've had an abortion
As a delicate, sensitive, and private choice and experience, an abortion isn't the easiest of topics to discuss, even with your doctor. However, if you want to one day have a family when you're ready or you're now struggling to get pregnant, Orange County, CA reproductive specialist Jane Frederick
, MD, says your doctor needs to know your full medical history, including an abortion.
"There can be scar tissue and damage to the uterus. We want to make sure that we have a good uterine cavity before we implant any embryos during IVF. Knowledge of an abortion will help us properly evaluate the uterus, offer a proper medication protocol and take extra steps to make sure the uterus is ready for implantation," she explains.
How you're really feeling—mentally
You're allowed to answer "Fine" to an acquaintance's "How are you feeling?" But be straight with how you're really feeling with your doctor. If you're feeling 'blah'—tell them. Kind of depressed, sometimes, maybe? Say that. Anxious and not sure what to do about it? Be open.
Says Michael Alper, MD, a fertility specialist in Boston, "No matter what, aim to share these feelings with your doctor if you feel unhappy or "stuck." We understand the emotions you may be feeling. By speaking your mind and being honest, no matter how imperfect you may feel, it helps you to feel better. And it helps us," he says. "An honest dialogue frees your mind when speaking with a doctor. It will do wonders for helping you to process information in a clear manner, recall questions you may have previously had, and give you a renewed sense of confidence and control."
Your sexual history
How many partners you've had, when you last had sex, if it was unprotected and if you've had an STD. All of these are pretty private questions, but they're also ones that Jaime M. Knopman, MD, director of fertility preservation at CCRM-NY
and co-founder of Truly, MD
, says are must-knows for doctors. She reiterates that doctors won't judge you; they're trying to help.
"We just want to know so that we can keep you safe and educate you on safe sex practice. If we don't know what you are doing and who you are doing it with, we can't test you for the appropriate conditions or come up with the best way to keep your reproductive organs healthy," she explains.