It starts harmlessly enough: you’re sitting in a doctor’s examining room, reflecting on how well you’ve taken care of your body since your last visit a year ago. Sure, you might have hit the bars more and the gym less than you meant to, but you think you’ve been pretty good overall. Not so fast—on second thought, those habits also mean that you’ve put on a few pounds and bummed too many cigarettes off strangers when you’re two martinis deep, and even your skin is paying the price.
As you enter this shame spiral, you hear a brisk knock on the door. Oh no, it’s the doctor! She’s going to take one look at you and see right through the shell of a person you’ve become to the multitude of sins you’ve committed. And here’s where the lies begin—you’re not hurting anyone by stretching the truth a bit, right? Wrong. You’re actually hurting yourself. If you truly care about your health, you’ll avoid blurting out these five fibs to your physician in the future.
1. “I don’t drink that much.”
Certainly, there are weeks when you don’t touch alcohol because you’re swamped at work or simply not in the mood. But for the majority of us, there are just as many weeks when we drink a couple more glasses of wine while cooking than we intended to, or when happy hour becomes happy four hours. When your doctor asks you how much booze you consume, he’s looking for an average, so it’s your responsibility to take into account both your “off” weeks and your “on” ones, and come up with an accurate representation of your imbibement. Yet patients continually lowball this figure when they’re in the hot seat (or on the examining table, as it were) or say things like, “I drink only once a week.” Just be aware that your doctor’s onto you: as Rakhi Dimino, MD, told WebMD, women who make the latter claim might indulge only one night weekly, “but then they drink six or seven cocktails in [that] evening.”
In addition, it’s fairly well known that whatever number of weekly drinks you tell your doctor you have, he doubles or even triples it automatically. So, given that fudging the figure is futile in the first place, it’s to your advantage to tell the truth, not only because it’s simply easier, but also—and more important—because of the fact that negative interactions between alcohol and numerous types of over-the-counter and prescription drugs are extremely common. Even if you never take anything stronger than Advil, consuming three or more alcoholic beverages per day along with ibuprofen can cause stomach bleeding and liver damage. If you come clean with your doctor about your true alcohol intake, he can recommend medication for you that’s certain not to put your health at risk.
2. “I don’t smoke cigarettes.”
What most people mean when they make this claim to their doctor is that they don’t consciously buy a pack of cigarettes, post up at a table with an ashtray, and puff the day away. But you’re not off the hook that easily—even people who smoke only among friends, people who smoke only when they drink alcohol, and people who never buy their own butts but manage to mooch them off others from time to time are all still smokers in the medical community’s eyes.
Telling the truth about cigarette smoking is especially important for anyone taking hormone-based contraceptives—including birth control pills, patches, and rings—because the combination of those hormones and nicotine increases women’s chances of stroke and blood clots. Nor are patients who are not using those types of birth control safe from harm: smoking also increases the risk of developing serious conditions like emphysema, respiratory infections, and lung cancer. Bottom line: if you ’fess up to your physician about how often you’re lighting up, she’ll be much better equipped to give you the necessary screenings to keep you healthy down the road.
3. “I never leave the house without sunscreen on.”
Skin cancer is the leading type of cancer in the United States—and no wonder, considering how many people lie to their doctors about wearing sunscreen regularly. David Bank, MD, medical director of the Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic, and Laser Surgery in Mount Kisco, New York, told WebMD, “[T]his one’s at the top of the list of lies we hear all day. We ask every patient whether they use sunscreen every day, and about 10 percent to 20 percent of the responses we get are false or exaggerated.”
Many of us know the saying “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and when it comes to sunscreen, we should live by it. Wearing SPF 30 or higher sunblock religiously, even on cloudy days, is an essential and easy-to-incorporate step in any skincare regimen. But if you simply can’t be bothered to slather it on, at least be sure to alert your physician, as he’ll then likely require you to submit to more-frequent melanoma screenings in order to avert potential problems early on, and will know to avoid prescribing you certain skincare medications, such as Retin-A, that make sunscreen-free skin more sensitive to sunlight.
4. “I watch what I eat and exercise regularly.”
In a perfect world, we’d all worship at the foot of the Food Pyramid and get at least thirty consecutive minutes of aerobic exercise five days per week. But busy schedules—coupled with all the temptations of fast food and workplace snacks—often sabotage even those with the most earnest fitness aspirations. Still, when doctors ask people how much they exercise, patients often exaggerate their activity levels, reasoning that walking from their desks to the office watercooler counts as cardio.
Doctors ask about your fitness regimen because they’re concerned about your blood pressure and cholesterol, which can be managed with a combination of exercise and proper diet. If you suffer from either high blood pressure or high cholesterol and falsely claim to your doctor that you’re exercising regularly and eating healthfully, that misinformation may lead the physician to submit you to unnecessary, expensive tests and prescribe costly medication with a wide range of negative side effects. Wouldn’t you rather just join a gym than have to carry a days-of-the-week pillbox in your purse?
5. “I have only one sexual partner.”
Many polyamorous women are embarrassed to admit to their doctors just how many sexual partners they’re juggling at one time, as they don’t want to be perceived as “promiscuous” or “irresponsible.” While there’s no shame in choosing not to be monogamous, it’s important to be accurate about exactly how many people you have a physical relationship with, since the higher that number is, the greater your risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Your doctor may recommend that you undergo more-frequent Pap smears and other tests as a result—which may seem inconvenient, until you compare it with the risks associated with delayed STD treatment, including pelvic infections, fertility issues, and even cervical cancer.
Doctor Knows Best
Do yourself a favor the next time you find yourself on the receiving end of a stethoscope: tell the truth. Your doctor isn’t there to judge you or question your morals; he’s there to ensure your optimal health and physical longevity. So let him help you—paint as full and accurate a picture of your lifestyle as possible, and if you’ve slipped up here and there, admit it. Lying might make you feel better in the short term, but in the worst-case scenarios, it could shave years off your life.