The last time you saw your doctor, you told her you stopped taking the pills she prescribed and started taking something else suggested by another doctor, didn't you? You were honest about how much alcohol you drink, how many times you smoked last week and the herbal supplements you're taking, weren't you? You mentioned that you're anxious about job layoffs at the office and recently started the grapefruit diet, right? If you're a regular viewer of the TV show "House, M.D.," you know that one of his oft-repeated catch phrases is "everybody lies." What are you hiding from your doctor that you probably should share?
To provide the best care they can, doctors depend on their patients, but it can be difficult to tell someone you barely know things you wouldn't even tell a family member or friend. Revealing all can do more than just improve the quality of your health care; in some cases it can save your life. Here are some things you may be tempted to keep from your doctor, or never realized he or she might need to know.
1. You take over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, herbal supplements and vitamins. Sure, many doctors may not think highly of some herbs and supplements, but they still need to know that you are taking them. Some of these products do not work well with certain prescription drugs or are not recommended for certain types of people, and some natural remedies can have serious side effects just like prescriptions.
2. You have trouble going to the bathroom. As a child, you were probably taught not to talk about what goes on in the bathroom, and many of us just aren't comfortable talking about our urinary or bowel activity. However, changes in your usual bathroom habits or in the consistency of your excrement can signal serious health issues, such as infections or cancer.
3. You are struggling financially. Why does your doctor need to know about your finances? If she recommends a procedure or a prescription you can't or won't buy, it's neither in your interest or hers for her to prescribe it. Be honest about your ability to pay for treatments she prescribes, and she may know of resources to get you what you need for little or no money. Free samples, generic alternatives and payment plans are just a few of the money-saving strategies she could offer.
4. You haven't followed your doctor's orders. Most of us feel some type of shame when we don't do what someone in authority tells us to do. But, when you hide your failure to comply from your doctor, she has no choice but to assume you did as you were told when deciding future treatment. If you didn't fill a prescription, didn't take the pills as prescribed or tossed them halfway through your treatment because you were feeling better, admit it.
5. You are not proud of your sexual past. When your doctor asks about your sexual partners, it's not so she can judge your choices. It's to assess your risk for sexually transmitted diseases and to schedule appropriate screenings. Your sexual habits also can alert her to potentially serious health problems. Your doctor also can help make your sex life better, but only if you're willing to open up about it.
6. You feel depressed, anxious or stressed. Depression is a serious condition, and a lot of patients hesitate to tell their physicians they feel depressed because they are embarrassed, think the problem will go away by itself, or are afraid of common treatments. Depression and anxiety also can be a side effect of medications or a symptom of disease. Your doctor can offer advice, refer you to the right specialist, or suggest a counselor to deal with stress. He can also evaluate if medication or therapy might help with depression.
7. You are seeing another doctor on the side. If you're seeing two doctors at the same time, things can go very bad, very fast. You need to tell each doctor what the other one is doing so that they can share test results, prevent drug interactions and ensure that their treatments work together.
8. You smoke, drink excessively or do illegal drugs. Tobacco use, alcohol and illicit drugs can interfere with prescription drugs and may have side effects that are mistaken as the result of disease or infection. Be honest about drugs and alcohol use; there are strict privacy laws between patient and doctor, so the doctor will only use the information to treat you and will not share it.
9. You have a small problem you think is unimportant. That unimportant problem may be a symptom of a very serious illness. Alerting your doctor means you can be treated. Even if it is not serious, why suffer and worry about it when your doctor can help?
If you're lucky, you have a doctor you can trust. If you and she haven't built that trust yet, being open and honest with her about your lifestyle can go a long way toward building that trust and a relationship that ultimately benefits you.
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