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.

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Don't drink coffee before a blood pressure test

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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." But if you know you have high blood pressure, your doctor may have told you to avoid drinking coffee all together.

Don't eat a high-fat meal before getting blood drawn

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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. This is what your cardiologist wishes you knew about triglycerides.

Do drink lots of water before a physical

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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. These genius tricks will help you stay hydrated.

Do eat as you normally do before a checkup

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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)

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When you're sick, your doctor may want to evaluate your symptoms without the effects of any over-the-counter medications. (Here's a look at which natural cold remedies actually work.) "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

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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.

Don't drink alcohol before a cholesterol test

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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

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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. (These are other heart tests that can detect silent symptoms of heart disease.) 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.

Don't get too thirsty before a urine test

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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

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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.

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