There’s a decent chance you’ve told at least one white lie to your doctor. At the end of the day, we all want to be healthy — and even if you’re in excellent shape, going to the doctor can sometimes be a nerve-wracking experience. And whether through embarrassment or wanting to appear very healthy, most of us don’t always tell the whole truth to our physicians.
According to a 2018 study, between 60 and 80 percent of patients have previously either not told their doctor the truth, or have held back on telling them full information (via Healthline). The reasons people lie to their doctors vary; one survey found that 75 percent of people who lie do so out of embarrassment, 31 percent do so to avoid any discrimination, and 22 percent do so because they’re not sure they’ll be taken seriously (via British Columbia Medical Journal).
Whatever the reason for your fibbing, know that your doctor is a pro at diagnosis — and even if you think you’re getting away with it, the odds are they’ll likely figure you out. So which frequent lies causes doctors to raise their eyebrows? Let’s take a look.
"I only drink occasionally"
For those out there that like a few extra tipples, brace yourself: Chances are your doctor knows that you might not be telling the whole truth about sticking to alcohol consumption guidelines. In a survey published by the British Columbia Medical Journal, results found that 50 percent of men and 32 percent of women who lied to their doctor did so about the amount they drank. With such a high proportion of fibs being told about booze, it’s little wonder your doctor may have a question mark over this one.
It’s important to remember that your doctor’s questioning is for good reason. The risks of long-term chronic heavy drinking (more than four drinks a day for men, or three a day for women) are vast and can include liver damage, increased risk of different types of cancer, digestive problems, and heart disease (via WebMD).
So if you’re prone to "casually omitting" the few extra drinks here and there on a weekend, it’s best to fess up. After all, your doctor will probably already know when you’re lying, and it’ll benefit your health to be honest.
"I don’t smoke"
With the health risks around smoking well established, you may be inclined to lie to your doctor about your occasional — or perhaps even regular — cigarette smoking habit. You wouldn’t be alone in doing so. A study published in Health Education & Behaviour found that 12.9 percent of smokers withheld their smoking status from their health care providers, as well as 5.8 percent of former smokers. It’s quite likely that your doctor has come across patients who haven’t exactly been forthcoming about their smoking.
If you’re in the camp of not being entirely truthful, it’s time to reconsider. Smoking causes almost a half-million deaths in the U.S. yearly. And in addition to having an effect on the lungs, it can increase the risk of cancer in pretty much every organ in the body (via Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Plus, smoking interacts with a range of prescription medications, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. It’s certainly in your best interests to be open and honest. Remember your doctor is there to help you.
"I went to the doctor pretty recently"
If you’re tempted to downplay the amount of time it’s been since your last visit, it’s probably something your doctor’s heard before. And in the long run, it isn’t a particularly helpful position to take. Telling your new physician that you’ve seen a different doc recently is a fib that can hinder your treatment.
Jaime M. Knopman, physician and director of fertility preservation at CCRM-NY and co-founder of Truly, MD, told The Healthy, "If you are new to a physician, we don’t know what happened and how frequently it happened in the past. Routine screening keeps you safe." The doctor continued, saying, "Don’t lie about when you went to the doctor last and what they did or did not check. It won’t help us know how best to take care of you in the future."
If your doctor’s working based on the knowledge that you’ve been seen recently and everything’s A-okay, they may not be able to treat you appropriately. If you haven’t had a check-up in a while, spill the beans.
"I rarely eat junk food"
It can be hard to eat clean all the time. So, if you’re sitting in a chair in your doctor’s office, looking them in the eye, telling them you rarely eat junk food — all the while thinking about that candy bar at home — you might forgive them if they don’t entirely believe you.
According to Dr. Kristine Arthur, an internist at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, this can be more common among those with diet-related conditions. "Often people with diabetes, high cholesterol, or obesity will say that they don’t eat anything ‘bad’ and can’t understand why their labs are still abnormal or they aren’t losing weight," the physician explained to Prevention. "When asked point-blank if they are eating saturated fats or processed sugars, for instance, they often say no even when their labs tell another story."
Not only is telling your doctor the truth about your diet important as it can affect your weight or tests, as seen above, but diets high in sodium and sugars can cause interactions with medication (via Harvard Health Letter). Your seemingly little lie might impact any other treatment you may be getting.
"I don’t know my family’s health history"
If you feel that your family’s health history isn’t need-to-know information for your new doctor, well, we’ve got some news for you. With a survey finding that 6 percent of people lie to their doctor about their personal or family history, it’s something your health care provider may well see through if you’re tempted to leave some information out.
When it comes to medical treatment, it’s important for your doctor know as much as they can to provide the right care. If you’re leaving details out about your family members’ health, your doc may not get an accurate picture. As physician Deborah Burton, penned in an article for HuffPost, "Please ask family members. Especially before surgery. That hidden family history of bleeding and trouble waking up after anesthesia is extremely important to know. Ask, don’t assume."
With family medical history providing information about your chances of developing common disorders such as heart disease or certain cancers, and rarer conditions like cystic fibrosis, being transparent about your health history is vital for your proper care (via MedlinePlus).
"I’ve only had x number of sexual partners"
Discussing your sexual history with anyone can be a bit awkward, which could be why quite a few people opt not to tell the whole truth when speaking with their doctors. According to a survey conducted by TermLife2Go, which polled 500 people, 23 percent of people admitted to doing so. And 29 percent of those who did lie did so about their sexual partners. With over 1 in 4 people not being fully truthful about their sexual history, chances are your doctor has learned to spot the dishonesty.
Being transparent about your sexual history, however, is important — particularly when it comes to the treatment of other illnesses that may be impacted by former sexual activity, or when diagnosing illnesses that could have potentially been caused through sex. The consequences of treatment for certain symptoms or conditions, for example, can differ for individuals who have a history of HIV (via Mayo Clinic).
"I take my medication regularly"
Medication, for some people, can be a hassle. Between collecting repeat prescriptions and remembering to take them daily, some people end up becoming a little lax on prescribed courses of medication from doctors — and they can end up lying about it.
This is something that doctors have seen before, and which carries risks and hassle for both doctor and patient. As Regina Druz, a cardiologist at the Integrative Cardiology Center of Long Island, said in an interview with The Healthy, "Patients often say that they take all of their medications in a timely fashion. But non-compliance with medications may result in additional medications being prescribed, since physicians may think that they are needed. This increases the risk of side effects, interactions with other drugs, and cost."
Failure to take medication regularly can also result in certain withdrawal effects for the patient, as well as the potential to miss the best window for treatment — and the ultimate prolonging of your condition (per WebMD). So even if you think that missing your medication occasionally or not following treatment plans entirely isn’t that big of a deal, it’s best to stick to the doctor’s orders.
"I exercise all the time!"
With the huge health benefits of exercise being no secret, it’s no wonder that if you’re not a regular runner you might not want to admit that to your doctor. Unfortunately, though, it’s one of the biggest lies that people tell health care professionals.
Survey results published by British Columbia Medical Journal found that 43 percent of those who lied to their doctor did so about exercise — with the only more common lie being about smoking habits, at 46 percent. There’s a good chance you’ve fibbed to your doctor about the frequency and extent to which you exercise.
Even if you’re not exercising as much as you wish you were, being clear with your doctor — despite any worry about how they might react — is important, particularly for your heart health. A study published in Circulation Research found that sedentary lifestyles and physical inactivity are among the highest risk factors for cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality. Knowing how often you work out is crucial for your doctor to help you protect your health in the long run.
"I haven’t done what you recommended yet, but I’m planning to"
Despite its importance, your health can sometimes take a bit of a backseat in life. But if you find yourself in a situation where you’re telling your doctor that "yes, I’ll definitely quit smoking soon, I promise" (or something similar), you’ll forgive them if they don’t believe you; they’re quite used to hearing it.
To doctors, this lack of urgency doesn’t make a lot of sense, and it causes unnecessary waiting to make healthy choices. As Marc Leavey, a doctor with Lutherville Personal Physicians in Maryland, told WebMD, "It’s not that every single thing should be urgent. It’s just that there’s no reason to delay on things that make us healthy."
When we promise our doctors that we’ll do something eventually and perpetually put off doing things that will ultimately help us, we can end up facing consequences down the line. Take smoking, for instance. Quitting smoking at the age of 30 could add 10 years to your life, but quitting at 60 could add just three years (via National Health System). With a difference like that, it’s no wonder that doctors don’t love procrastination around our well-being.
"I always use sunscreen"
Getting enough sunshine can have huge benefits for our immune systems and mental health, but it’s important to make sure you’re protecting your skin while doing so. However, the majority of Americans do not wear sunscreen regularly. In fact, just 30 percent of women and less than 15 percent of men use sunscreen regularly, according to a study cited by the National Cancer Institute.
Nevertheless, lying about wearing sunscreen won’t help matters — particularly during skin screenings. Dr. Gaspere Geraci, family physician and market chief medical officer for AmeriHealth Caritas, told Insider, "You need to be honest about the amount of time spent in the sun without proper sunscreen use — and any related family history — because otherwise, you may not receive as comprehensive of a skin screening as you should."
With skin cancer being the most common type of cancer, according to the Skin Care Foundation, protecting yourself with sunscreen and seeing a dermatologist regularly is vital. Just make sure you’re always honest, as lying could cause a missed opportunity for treatment.
"I’m feeling better now"
Whether due to not wanting to appear as ill as we feel, or out of respect for the doctor’s time, there can sometimes be a tendency to downplay our symptoms or outright deny their continued existence to doctors. But while you might feel a "keep calm and carry on" approach is the best way forward, it’s neither helpful for doctors nor you.
According to Amit Khera, director of the program in preventive cardiology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, it appears to sometimes stem from not wanting to acknowledge illness. "A lot of it is fear that people think that if they don’t know [what is wrong with them], then they’re OK and once they know, then they’re not OK. … Obviously, that couldn’t be true," Khera told WebMD.
Denial of symptoms is a risky path to take. If your body is showing you any warning signs, the right course of action is to be upfront and honest with your doctor to make sure you receive the best medical treatment possible.
"I never take drugs"
With drug use bearing a social stigma, it can be difficult to feel able to discuss drug use with your doctor — particularly if your use involves the taking of illegal or less "socially acceptable" drugs, or if you have addictive tendencies towards any substances. It’s important to note that prolonged use of substances can lead to a wide range of serious health conditions, as found by a study published in Public Health Reviews. This makes it even more vital to be honest about any drug use, as it could impact your treatment.
According to Verywell Mind, patients who have a drug addiction may lie about the extent of their addiction and symptoms, which then makes it difficult for their doctors to help. Some may also be concerned that they’ll be reported to the authorities if they admit to using illegal drugs, but as the Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center confirmed, "Your doctor isn’t legally allowed to report drug use to the police."
If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with addiction, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website or contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
"I followed your advice"
"Doctor’s orders" are usually pretty firm for a reason — they’re to help you get better. But if you didn’t follow their guidance (and you wouldn’t be the only one), it’s best not to lie about it. And what’s more, they’ll have probably figured you out.
In a survey of over 1,200 people conducted by Medicare Advantage, 47 percent admitted to lying to their doctors. Of those who lied, 38 percent fibbed about "how closely they adhere to specific doctor orders." In fact, this was the most common lie told.
Unfortunately, though, non-adherence to treatment plans set by doctors can be a pretty big problem — primarily for your health. In a study published in Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management (fittingly titled "The challenge of patient adherence"), the consequences of not following treatment advice and plans can be severe and even life-threatening, particularly when the advice or medication is given for a serious condition, such as HIV or coronary heart disease.
"I don’t have any questions"
Seeing a doctor can lead to feeling better soon, but what won’t make you feel better is, in the eagerness to leave or not take too much of your doctor’s time, failing to ask for clarification about your treatment plan. According to Dr. Gaspere Geraci, family physician and market chief medical officer for AmeriHealth Caritas, this is a common problem — and it can be pretty problematic.
Speaking to Insider, Dr. Geraci said, "Patients are often afraid to ask follow-up questions or clarify a point they don’t understand because they want to respect their doctor’s time. But it’s actually essential to their health to ask those questions so they don’t miss an important point that’s key to the management of the issue they’re experiencing." The doctor continued, saying, "It’s easier to spend several extra minutes with your physician ensuring you fully understand their recommendation than walking away without the knowledge and answers you need." The next time your doctor asks if you have any questions, be bold and speak up. It could be the difference between a full recovery and a return trip.