6 Common Lies We Tell Our Doctors

When you think back to your many visits with various health professionals over the years you likely remember how they helped you or failed you. However, you might (conveniently) forget the many little white lies you told in their offices. According to a collaborative study carried out by General Electric Co. and the Cleveland Clinic, 28-percent of patient admit telling the odd little white lie to a doctor, however, a shocking 77-percent of doctors and registerd nurses suspect  surveyed more than one fourth of patients lie.

It’s true, and many doctors will attest to their patients’ common over-exaggerations (i.e., exercise) and under-exaggerations (i.e., drinking or smoking). Call them what you will, many of us may forget, fib, or distort the truth to avoid embarrassment or a lecture from our doctors. But consider how these little six prevalent lies can drastically impact our health…

1. Mistaking Medications

Many of lie to our dentist’s about how often we floss, but the dentist knows the truth when he or she inspects your mouth. The same goes for doctors who’s patients fib about how often and how long they’ve taken a medication. If you forget a few days (or a week) due to forgetting to renew a prescription, your doctor can tell from a quick blood test or lab.

However, consider the wasted time and money spent on testing in the meantime.  Physical medicine and rehabilitation physician, Dr. Steve Yoon, from Los Angeles’ Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic, tells us that the fibs and misuse of medication not only obstructs the healing process, it may cause your physician to recommend a unnecessary increase in medication dosage or an unwarranted surgery.

reading medication

2. Downplaying Severity of Symptoms

Ask Dr. Kashif Ali, a medical oncologist at the Maryland Oncology Hematology clinic, and he’ll attest that his cancer patients often underplay the severity of certain symptoms. Dr. Ali explains that these under-exaggerations are most commonly told because a patient fears the doctor will discontinue treatment.

“Unfortunately”, says Dr. Ali, “patients [will] mask certain troubling side effects…[however] usually they can switch to another treatment that’s as effective…or stay on the regimen, if I adjust the dose.”

doctor bedside manner

3. Exaggerating Severity of Symptoms

Sadly, the opposite can also be true when it comes to patients over-exaggerating certain symptoms. According to a 2009 study published in the journal for Clinical Psychiatry patients will often lie about symptoms due to fear of legal consequences for their actions, for access to disability, or to get their hands on controlled medications.

Even still, doctors do admit that a busy or chaotic clinic will lead to shocking or exaggerated claims from some patients who feel the doctor is too busy or isn’t taking them seriously enough. However, if a patient has a history of over-exaggerations, it can cause health care professionals to think they’re “crying wolf” even when something is wrong in the future.

Consult Your Doctor

4. Fibs about Eating Habits

Perhaps the most common lie of all has to do with diet, or what we eat or don’t eat. According to doctors at Ohio State University, this diet lie is often the most commonly told by those with health conditions directly impacted by their diets (i.e., those with elevated cholesterol, obesity and other metabolic disease, and diabetes), which also makes these little diet fibs potentially very dangerous.

After all, you may tell your doctor that you’ve eliminated all refined sugar and saturated fats from your diet when, in fact, you have a bag of candy tucked in your desk at work. But remember, a blood test always reveals the truth. If you’re on a specialized diet due to a health condition or chronic disease, it’s best to come clean so your doctor can help you modify and manage your diet realistically to avoid tragedy down the road.


5. Recreational Drug Use

According to a survey conducted by Web MD, the most common lie told by younger patients 25- to 34-years old has to do with recreational drug use–including how much they smoke cigarettes, use drugs like marijuana, and even use testosterone (i.e., illegal steroids and growth hormones).

However, doctors at Los Angeles’ Center for Male Reproductive Medicine and Vasectomy Reversal, explain that patients most commonly lie about drug activity due to the fear of it going on their medical records and leading to job loss or legal ramifications.  However, many non-prescribed drugs can cause health problems (i.e., cardiovascular disease and low sperm count).


6. How Much You Really Drink

Before you point fingers at the younger sect, consider this: statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) find that while 38 million adults binge drink roughly 4 times per month, it’s adults 65-years and older that tend to take their drinking too far, too often. So it should be no surprise that older patients tend to fib about exactly how much they drink to their doctors.

Consider the WebMD.com survey, which shows that approximately 16-percent of patients admit to lying about how much or how often they drink alcohol, but it’s family who tend to rat them out. Keep in mind your drinking could dangerously interact with your medications, but not only that, lying about how much your swill can lead to unnecessary costs for medical tests to identify a problem with your liver that doesn’t actually exist.



Emily Lockhart

Emily Lockhart is a weight loss expert who specializes in healthy living. She is dedicated to providing health-conscious individuals with the information they need to make great lifestyle choices that will make them look and feel better. In her spare time, Emily teaches Pilates at a local studio and enjoys activities like hiking, rowing and biking.