Fudging the facts at the doctor’s office could have serious effects on your health. Experts reveal why it’s so important to disclose those sensitive details…

Fibbing to your partner about those “on sale” stilettos is one thing; twisting the truth at a doctor’s appointment, or simply not knowing what to say, is another. A joint US survey by General Electric, Cleveland Clinic and Ochsner Health System has found that more than a quarter of patients either lie or omit facts about their health to their GP.

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Dr. Brian Morton, of the Australian Medical Association (NSW), attributes this to our fear of criticism. “We’re not here to judge, it’s your body; but for your own health and safety, it’s better to let your GP know all the facts.” Here’s what to reveal when your name is called.

You have a family history

“Patients often hide details of their family history because they think these aren’t relevant,” says Dr. Georga Cooke, spokeperson for the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. This is not the case. In fact, conditions such as stroke, heart disease, breast and colon cancer have a strong genetic basis that can significantly influence treatment, says Dr. Morton. “If you have a family history of certain diseases, screening starts at a much younger age for you than it does for the general population – 10 years earlier than a typical case.” It’s also important to disclose any history of mental illness, adds Dr. Cooke. If your parent has depression, you’ll have a higher risk of anxiety and depression,” she says.

You didn’t take your meds

Think you don’t need that script? Worried about the side effects? Plain slipped your mind? You need to tell your GP, says Professor Michael Dooley, director of pharmacy at Alfred Hospital, Melbourne. “One issue is the assumption that patients are taking medications that have been prescribed. We think that they’ve been taking them, so when the patient comes back complaining of the same symptoms, we may put them on a higher dose or a less suitable medication,” he says.

It’s also worth mentioning any supplements or alternative medicines you may be taking, as these can cause side effects and reduce the effectiveness of other medications.

In 2010, Professor Dooley and his colleagues conducted a study, which found that more than 70 per cent of adult females had taken complementary medicines in the previous year, and out of those women, 70 per cent hadn’t told their doctor during a GP visit.

You’ve hidden parts of your sex life

Discussing your sexual past may be uncomfortable, but a 2011 report from The Kirby Institute at The University of New South Wales showed a 17 per cent increase in chlamydia diagnoses in 2010. Chlamydia is the most frequently reported STI in Australia, and if not treated early “it can cause long-term damage such as infertility, chronic illness resulting from continued low-grade infection and low energy levels”, says Dr. Morton. “We don’t need invasive histories. The point of telling your GP is to help them correctly diagnose you and to assess the risk of ongoing damage.” Still can’t face your family doc? Public sexual-health clinics that offer STI testing separate to your medical records are located nationwide. To find a clinic, visit www.sti.health.gov.au.

You’re on a juice cleanse

Whether you’re on medication, or just trying to get healthy, you should always mention drastic changes to your diet. Firstly, says Dr. Cooke, the number on the scales may seem seductive after a few days, but knocking back juice isn’t an effective long-term solution for either weight loss or health. “You need slow and consistent weight loss to lower your BMI,” she says. “Juice diets are often high in sugar, and they also deprive your body of fat and protein.” Side effects can include feeling unwell, sleeplessness and mood swings. Your GP can help you work out a better long-term eating plan. On the pill? Beware of liquid diets, says Professor Dooley. “Anything that causes diarrhoea can prevent your body from absorbing the pill, and if it doesn’t stay in the body, it might not work.”

You’ve kept mum about plastic surgery

You’ve booked in for a nip and tuck: do you need to tell your GP? “If you have any major illnesses or if you’re taking medication, it’s sensible to get your doctor’s advice,” says Dr. Warwick Nettle, plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Sydney’s Silkwood Medical. Some medications, such as aspirin, can impact on the anaesthetic. Plastic surgeons also look for psychological maturity and the ability to make appropriate decisions in a potential patient, says Dr. Nettle. And unless you have a GP referral, you won’t be eligible for a Medicare rebate.

You like a glass (or two) of wine with dinner

Is your attitude to alcohol the more the merrier? You could be upping your breast-cancer risk, according to a study published in the Medical Journal of Australia, which estimates that 22 per cent of our nation’s breast cancer cases are linked to alcohol. High alcohol intake is also linked to raised blood pressure, liver disease, stroke and heart attack, adds Dr. Morton, and your GP needs to know all your risk factors, including your vino habit. “Australian guidelines recommend drinking no more than two standard drinks a day,” he says. “Be aware of different glass sizes: one standard glass of wine is 100ml, or 285ml of beer.” The good news? Lay off the liquor and you can limit the damage. “Lowering alcohol consumption reduces blood pressure and stops ongoing impairment to your brain,” says Dr. Morton. 

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