10 Things You Should Never Do Before a Doctor Appointment—and 4 Things You Should
Whether you’re going in for checkups or common tests, here’s how to get the most out of your next visit.
Don’t drink coffee before a blood pressure test
If you’re going in for a regular doctor visit, you’re probably going to have your blood pressure taken. So it’s best to avoid coffee right before your appointment because it could affect the results. “Using coffee or other caffeine such as energy drinks or colas within an hour of having your blood pressure measured can make the number artificially higher,” says James Dewar, MD, vice chairman of family medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC). “The same goes for tobacco products and over-the-counter decongestant medications.”
Don’t eat a high-fat meal before getting blood drawn
You might want to avoid the fettucini alfredo or double cheeseburger before a regular blood workup. “If you wouldn’t normally have a high-fat meal, then don’t do it, so your physician can get an accurate picture of your health,” says Deepa Iyengar, MD, associate professor of family and community medicine at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and an attending physician at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. Eating an unusually large meal could cause the results of your test to be skewed. You may need to avoid eating in general. “If your blood work will include a measurement of cholesterol or other fats, it is best to avoid any calories for eight to 10 hours before the test is drawn,” says Dr. Dewar. “Your blood sugar and certain fats in the blood called triglycerides can be increased for a bit after you eat.” You probably will be told to fast before a regular blood workup, says Dr. Iyengar, so you might not have a choice. Here are more doctor appointment mistakes you don’t know you’re making.
Do drink lots of water before a physical
In general, it’s a good idea to hydrate before seeing the doc for a checkup. “Being well hydrated at the time of a physical will make your pulse and blood pressure at their best,” Dr. Dewar says. “If you are having blood work or urine testing done, being mildly dehydrated can cause artificial abnormalities in the testing that can confuse the results.” Although you do want the doctor to be able to see what your normal lifestyle is like, you should be drinking lots of water daily anyway.
Do eat as you normally do before a checkup
You probably want to show the doctor your best health, but it’s not necessary to change your eating habits before an annual appointment. “Your providers would like you to be honest and upfront about your lifestyle and diet so they can have an accurate history of your health and provide you with the best possible care,” says Gregory John Galbreath, MD, a PIH Health physician in Whittier, California. And even if you improved an unhealthy diet close to your appointment date, it probably wouldn’t matter. “It takes a long time for diet to change cholesterol and blood sugar, so a dietary change of a few days or meals isn’t going to do much,” Dr. Dewar says. Changes occur over the long term, so it’s best to eat healthy as much as you can.
Don’t take cold medicine before a sick visit (if you can)
When you’re sick, your doctor may want to evaluate your symptoms without the effects of any over-the-counter medications. “If possible, don’t take anything so your doctor can see any abnormal findings and assess your condition,” says Dr. Iyengar. “Some medications may raise blood pressure, and your physician would not know if the medication or the illness could be the cause.” If you’re really hurting, it’s probably okay to go ahead—your doctor wants you to feel better and will rely on you to describe your symptoms. But definitely let the doctor know which medications you’ve taken. “If you are taking medications to help with an acute illness, it’s important to let the doctor know if they are helping and/or causing side effects,” Dr. Dewar says. “This can help the doctor and you decide on the next steps in treatment.”
Don’t get a mani pedi before the dermatologist
Dermatologists look at your whole body, including your nails, so you should keep them polish-free. “Avoid wearing nail polish or acrylic nails,” says Sarina Elmariah, MD, PhD, a dermatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. In addition to nail issues like fungus, subtle clues in your nails can indicate bigger health problems, like anemia, diabetes, and even heart ailments. Also, skip the cover-up and eye shadow, so your doctor can easily see any skin problems on your face. “Avoid wearing makeup or be willing to remove it if necessary,” she says. But it is okay to wear sunscreen or lotions, she says. Check out these 11 other annoying things doctors wish you’d stop doing.
Don’t drink alcohol before a cholesterol test
You don’t want anything to alter your triglycerides (one of the four components measured in a cholesterol profile), which could lead to needlessly worrying results. “The precaution to abstain 24 hours prior to cholesterol test is based on the potential increase in triglycerides that could result soon after drinking alcohol,” says Joon Sup Lee, MD, chief of cardiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and co-director of the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute. In addition, you should avoid sweets, high-fat foods, and generally overeating before the test. “All of these in large quantities can affect the triglycerides in the short term,” Dr. Lee says. “Since we want to the result of the cholesterol exam to reflect what your body is doing in the long term, it is best to avoid these short-term fluctuations.” Interestingly, Dr. Lee says regular consumption of an alcoholic drink or two per day can actually have a mild beneficial effect on cholesterol levels, so go ahead and imbibe moderately when you’re not about to actually take the test.
Don’t have caffeine before some stress tests
A stress test is used to work your heart (by walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike) to see how it reacts and ensure that it’s healthy. But if you’re having a certain kind of stress test that involves the use of pharmacological agents to stress the heart, don’t have caffeine beforehand. “Caffeine counteracts the medicine—adenosine or regadenosine—used to simulate stress in the ‘chemical’ stress test,” says Dr. Lee. Find out what your doctor is really thinking (but won’t say to your face.)
Don’t get too thirsty before a urine test
If you need to go for a urine test, it’s best not to get dehydrated before your appointment—so if you exercise, make sure you drink plenty of water afterward. “Avoid episodes of major dehydration that can significantly alter a urinalysis,” Benjamin Davies, MD, chief of urology at the UPMC Shadyside/Hillman Cancer Center. “And avoid exercise that’s not in your normal daily routine.” If you exercise regularly, you probably know how your body will react and how to take care of it afterward; but if you’re not used to it, you’re more likely to get dehydrated.
Don’t cancel your gyno if you have your period
Although you might be grossed out by your period, your doctor’s seen worse. “I would often joke with a patient who comes in and says, ‘Oh, I just got my period this morning, I’m so nervous,’ and it will be like right after I’ve done a cesarean section or delivery—like I never saw blood before!” says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, an OBGYN at Yale-New Haven Hospital and founder of the women’s health website MadameOvary.com. But any tests you have with your period should be fine. “The liquid Pap smear tests that are the standard now can be done even when a woman is menstruating, so no need to reschedule,” says Elizabeth Roth, MD, an ob-gyn at Massachusetts General Hospital. “Some women feel more comfortable rescheduling when they have their period, but medically there is no need to do this.” The only exception is if you’re going in for a specific concern, like a funky discharge or lesion, that your period might obscure. “But even that is not an absolute as we can still do vaginal cultures,” Dr. Roth says. These are the 14 things you should never lie to your doc about.
Don’t use deodorant before a mammogram
As if mammograms weren’t nerve-wracking enough, you can’t even protect against sweating! “Mammography advises women to skip deodorant/antiperspirant or powders on the day of the mammogram,” Dr. Roth says. “The reason is that many deodorants and powders contain aluminum, which on mammography looks similar to breast calcifications and could be read as a false positive.” Although you might be worried about your B.O., the techs are used to it, and it can’t be that bad if you shower beforehand. It’s better than getting incorrect bad news later!
Don’t eat red food before a colonoscopy
Red or purple food can actually color your colon, including the Jell-O, ice pops, or fruit juice you may be advised to have while eating lightly on the day before the test. “We ask that these are not purple or red in color because they will mask the lining of the colon and could then affect the outcome of the study,” says Randall Brand, MD, a gastroenterologist at UPMC. Interestingly, iron supplements can have the same effect—plus they can have some other not-so-pleasant consequences. “Iron can also stain the walls of the colon, again having an effect on a successful study,” Dr. Brand says. “In addition, iron, for many people, can be constipating and may make it difficult for the pre-colonoscopy laxatives to completely clean out the colon for a successful study.” You should stop taking iron a week before your colonoscopy. Other things that can be hard to clean out are high-fiber foods like raw fruits and vegetables, corn, and beans, so Dr. Brand says they should be avoided for three days prior to the procedure.
Do go ahead and have sex before the gyno or urologist
You might think that having sex before a visit to the gynecologist (for a woman) or the urologist (for a man) might be a no-no, but the doctors we talked to said it’s okay to do the deed the day before. “Your doctor’s not going to yell at you for having sex—it’s totally fine,” Dr. Minkin says. But again, if you’re going to be nervous about it, skip the sex or reschedule. “It will not affect your physical exam either way, nor will it affect the Pap smear,” Dr. Roth says. For men, you might be worried that it will affect any tests you have on your urine, testicles, or prostate, but Dr. Davies says that’s not the case. “Normal sexual activity is fine,” he says. “There are no significant abnormalities associated with sexual relations.” These are the 18 truths people will only tell their doctors.
Do write down your questions beforehand
No matter what kind of appointment you have, you may be a bit nervous—after all, being examined by a doctor can make us feel vulnerable and even embarrassed. But if you write down the things you want to talk about before you go (or even make a note on your phone), you’re less likely to forget or lose you nerve. “It’s helpful if you come in with your list of questions so you’re not like, ‘Oh, I meant to ask this, I meant to ask that but I was too nervous,’” Dr. Minkin says. “Don’t be afraid to write down, ‘vaginal dryness is a problem’ if it is, and you can talk about it.” Other than that, the only other thing you should probably do is shower! Use these tips to get the most out of your next doctor visit.