10 Secrets Not to Keep from Your Doctor

Lying to your doctor can be deadly. Here are 10 secrets not to keep — and a few useful tips for dealing with the really sensitive subjects.

We know what we should be doing to live healthier lives — eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, refrain from smoking or drinking too much — but as we also know, this doesn’t always happen. Who wants to confess that we haven’t always followed ‘doctors orders’ 100 per cent or be seen as less than a model patient?

While it’s tempting to say what we think the doctor wants to hear, it’s clearly not in our best interest to do so. How, after all, can you get the best treatment if your doctor doesn’t know what’s really going on? Here are 10 secrets not to keep from your doctor — and some useful tips for dealing with the more sensitive subjects.

What you need to tell your doctor

martiniAlcohol, smoking, illegal drugs

Anyone at any age can have a problem with substance abuse. Be honest with your doctor about how much you drink, smoke or take any illegal drugs so that any health problems can be accurately diagnosed and treated. (Alcohol in particular can become a problem in later life, partly because the aging process affects how the body handles alcohol.) Keep in mind there are strict privacy laws between a doctor and patient, so the information will not be shared.

bathroomBathroom issues

Set embarrassment aside and let your doctor know if you’re experiencing any problems controlling your bladder or your bowels, or if you’ve noticed any changes in bowel habits including the appearance of blood in your stool (which could be an indication of colorectal cancer). Urinary incontinence can often be treated through medication, exercise or in some cases, surgery.

bedroom-issuesBedroom issues

Sexuality remains important throughout life, so if you are encountering any problems, don’t assume they are a normal part of aging and can’t be treated. Also, be sure to consult with your doctor about any effects of a medication, illness or disability on sexual function.

And if you’ve started dating again, particularly after being in a long relationship, or are having sex with a new partner, make sure you’re informed on the latest safe sex practices to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS. Practicing safe sex is always important, whatever your age. (See Zoomers at increased risk for AIDS.)

supplementsHerbs, supplements and alternative treatments

Does your doctor frown upon alternative medicine? No matter. Be sure to pass on all information on the herbs, supplements or other alternative treatments you’re taking. Certain herbs and supplements don’t mix well with medications, and can lead to less effective treatment, or worse yet, cause dangerous interactions. (See When supplements and prescriptions don’t mix.)


worried coupleFinancial troubles

For many people, talking about money is taboo. Yet we all know that prolonged financial stress can lead to health problems. (See Economic stress and your health.) Let your doctor know if you’re experiencing ongoing financial difficulties or if you’d like to look into cheaper or generic medications to save on costs.


Depression or ongoing sadness

In addition to money, many people have trouble talking about their feelings, but clinical depression is a serious disease — and too dangerous to keep a secret. Let your doctor know if you experience any symptoms of depression including ongoing sadness (for no particular reason), lack of energy and interest in your usual activities, poor appetite and trouble sleeping.

bad-lifestyle-choices-donutBad lifestyle habits

If you don’t exercise regularly (or at all) and eat badly, be honest about it. Discuss the situation and any particular challenges you have with your doctor — and perhaps together you can come up with a plan to develop more healthy habits.

doctors ordersDefying the doctor’s orders

Okay, so you’re not doing your breast exams every month, or you’re having trouble remembering to take your prescription medications. Such behaviour can pose serious risks to your health but if you admit your difficulties, your doctor may be able to come up with ways to help.

older-couple-memoryMemory problems

This is another tough one to admit. With aging, many people worry about their ability to maintain cognitive performance. However, if you or your family notice any changes in your memory or thinking, let your doctor know. Memory problems can be caused by a number of factors including depression, infection, and a side effect of medication — or they can be a symptom of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Determining the cause is important for selecting the best plan of care. Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, medicines can help, especially in the early stages of the disease. (For ways to boost brainpower see Boot camp for the brain and Viagra for the brain.)

man-small-problemsA ‘small’ problem that may seem silly or unimportant

Don’t hesitate to talk about subtle or potentially silly-sounding worries or difficulties for fear of looking foolish or wasting the doctor’s time. The mole on your arm that’s been a little itchy just might be an early symptom of skin cancer. Another example: Studies have shown that for many older people, a fear of falling can keep them from going about their normal activities — and as a result they may become frailer, which actually increases their risk of falling. A doctor, on the other hand, could recommend ways to reduce chances of falling such as exercises that help to improve balance and strengthen muscles.

doctor-womanTips for sensitive subjects

So how do you get the guts to talk about the really private stuff? A simple approach is usually best. Whatever it is, say it straight out, perhaps prefacing your concern with something like: “This is embarrassing but…” Remember, no matter what’s troubling you, it’s more than likely most doctors have heard it before.

Another option is to use brochures or booklets as props to introduce awkward or embarrassing topics. Or if you feel more comfortable with the nurse, you could approach her first.

As always, if you feel the doctor isn’t taking your concerns seriously, it’s probably time to think about changing doctors.

Sources: US National Institute of Aging; Mayo Clinic; CNN.