You're sitting in the waiting room looking at a clipboard full of invasive questions. You hunch over the paper, and write in tiny script hoping the 65 year-old grandmother of three doesn't see you writing that you are both single AND sexually active.
Next, you're called to move into an open cubby where a medical assistant confirms all of your answers, and enters them into a computer for permanent record, while more strangers walk by nonchalantly. Then you move into the patient room, disrobe and wait for the doctor.
She's dressed in a starch-white coat, with all of her years of education hanging over you as you sweat through what feels like an interrogation under the fluorescent lighting. Looking into her authoritative eyes, and then back down at the ground, it suddenly seems a lot more comfortable to fib just a bit. “Sex? Me? No, I am totally a virgin.” “Alcohol? Maybe a sip during a wedding toast.”
Nobody enjoys going to the doctor. Most Americans wait until they're desperately ill before they do. In fact, studies show that Americans visit the doctor on average four times a year.
As a physician, I can attest that these questions are not meant to make you feel guilty about your lifestyle choices, or so your doctor can gossip with his or her colleagues about what you did last weekend. They are crucial in getting the entire picture of your health.
In fact, some of these personal questions are more important than others. Here are five questions you should never lie about to your doctor, no matter how much easier it may seem:
1. Do you smoke?
Despite the knowledge we have about the dangers of smoking, we are still seeing a rise amongst young women as “social smokers,” otherwise known as “light smokers.” This type of smoking (i.e. on the weekends, or with friends) is often underreported in doctor visits because the women who social smoke don't consider themselves actual smokers.
Unfortunately, they are still at risk for nicotine addiction, health risks and additional risks when this smoking is combined with certain medications, such as birth control pills. In addition, social smokers have a greater association with depression than non-smokers.
2. How much alcohol do you drink?
Binge drinking is on the rise. It's typically defined as four drinks per two hours for a woman, and five for men. National surveys show that about one in two women of child-bearing age (i.e. 18–44) drink alcohol, and 18 percent of women who drink alcohol in this age group binge drink. This has consequences.
Binge drinking may disrupt the menstrual cycle, and increase the risk of infertility. In addition, women who binge drink are more likely to have unprotected sex and multiple sexual partners. These activities increase the risks of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
3. Are you sexually active?
This is sometimes the hardest question to confess. Especially given your "number." Most women hold their sexual number locked away in an imaginary box with their actual weight, but you should be straight with your doc.
Also, don't "Bill Clinton" the answer. You should mention oral sex as well and anal, too. Your doctor needs to be able to appropriately counsel you on the risks of sexually transmitted diseases, and your contraceptive options.
4. Do you have a family and/or personal history of mental illness?
No one wants to bring up their bipolar uncle, or the fact that their mother suffered from depression. What's even more difficult to admit is a personal history of mental illness, especially when a person feels it is way in her past.
Sometimes, these memories are painful to talk about. And sometimes, it's the unfortunate stigma surrounding mental illness that keeps a patient from speaking up, but it must be shared. Having a personal/family history of mental illness puts you at risk, and a doctor needs to know this so he or she can ask you the right questions, and make sure you're not suffering.
5. What medications and supplements do you take?
I'm not just a physician. I'm a social woman who has been around the block, and I know first-hand how common prescription drug use is amongst women who do not actually have a prescription.
Not reporting under the table meds (i.e. Adipex, Xanax and Adderall) can be extremely dangerous. Every drug has side effects and run the possibility of interacting with other drugs your doctor may prescribe. Over the counter supplements can also effect the metabolism of prescription medications and, therefore, interfere with how they affect you. The dangers of self-medicating are grave, and should not be underestimated.
Overall, going to the doctor can be tough. The poking, the prodding, the cost and all the personal disclosure isn't fun, but it's for your benefit. I promise we're not judging you.
So, be honest about your body, your choices and your health. It's your visit. Own it.