You have no problem telling your physician about the pain in your right arm. But the pain down there? Forget it – it’ll probably go away. But choosing not to tell your doctor the whole truth can hurt you. Find out the top 8 health-related secrets you shouldn’t keep…
You’re in for your annual physical and the doctor asks, “How often do you eat red meat? Exercise?”
Do you confess to weekly cheeseburgers or bi-monthly gym visits?
“So often, patients don’t talk to their doctors because they’re afraid of the answer or what the physician will think of them,” says was Carolyn Clancy, M.D., a general internist, researcher and director of the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in Rockville, Md.
What are you keeping from your doctor? And why is it important to mention? We asked physicians what they need to know about their patients. Here are 8 things you should always bring up.
1. You’re taking vitamins, herbs or supplements.
You pop a daily multivitamin, an herbal supplement for sleep and a powder to improve memory. They’re harmless, right?
“Supplements [can] cause symptoms and interfere with some medications,” says Nieca Goldberg, M.D., author of Dr. Nieca Goldberg’s Complete Guide to Women’s Health (Ballantine Books) and medical director of New York University’s Women’s Heart Center.
Gingko, for example, can cause [heart] palpitations, she says.
The herb, which many people take to enhance memory, also interacts with blood-pressure medications, dangerously lowering levels.
Calcium, which many women take for bone health, can reduce absorption of antibiotics.
2. There’s blood in your stool.
Most of us steer clear of potty talk – even with our doctors. But at every visit, Clancy asks patients if they’ve ever seen blood in their stool. The response is often the same.
“‘Why would I look?’” she says.
Because it could save your life. Blood in the stool is a symptom of colorectal cancer, which is curable when caught early.
“People [can] live for years,” Clancy says.
So mention any change in bathroom habits to your doctor, says Renee Scola, M.D., an internist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
“If you’ve always been regular and suddenly you’re constipated for several weeks, tell your doctor,” she says.
3. You’re depressed.
So you’ve been feeling a little down; it’ll pass, you think. Besides, why bother your doctor with it?
“Some women are embarrassed,” says Ellen L. Poleshuck, Ph.D., a family therapist at the University of Rochester (N.Y.) Medical Center.
Emotions can affect your physical health, and depressed people often feel fatigued, lose their appetite or have stomach aches. If your doctor doesn’t know you’re depressed, you may have to undergo unnecessary tests or medications.
“Primary-care physicians and ob-gyns are trained to assess and treat depression” and prescribe treatment if necessary, Poleshuck says.
If you’re not comfortable mentioning it at the appointment, bring a friend or family member for support.
4. You’re worried about something you read on the Web.
Many women go online first to diagnose health problems. Would your doctor be offended?
Not at all! Most doctors say they like well-informed patients.
“Don’t stop looking for information,” Goldberg advises. Just say, ‘I saw something on the Internet. Do I need to be concerned?’
Also, remember much of what you read online is general.
“Information on the Internet isn’t specific to the people reading it” and may not apply to your case, says Goldberg.
5. You don’t eat right and exercise regularly.
That morning donut and coffee ritual? Those couch potato nights? Admit them your doc.
People often lie or omit information because they don’t realize how harmful those habits really are, says Clancy.
“That’s why we recommend that overweight people keep a food diary, so they can get a more realistic picture of what they eat in a day,” Clancy says.
Even if weight isn’t an issue, talk to your doctor about your diet. You may not need a major meal overhaul – just a little tweaking.
“Weight is only one aspect of it,” says Lisa Norsen, a Rochester nurse practitioner. Unhealthy eating habits are linked to chronic diseases, such as heart attacks, diabetes and more.
6. You stopped taking your medication.
One of Goldberg’s patients stopped taking her cholesterol medication when a friend on the same drug developed muscle aches.
Unfortunately, the patient didn’t tell Goldberg. So when tests showed higher cholesterol levels, Goldberg called to increase her dosage. That’s when the woman confessed that she had stopped taking the medication.
“Instead of telling the doctor, some patients [act] on their own,” Goldberg says. “That’s one of the most dangerous things you can do.”
The medicine your doctor prescribes is designed to keep you healthy — and the side effects you’ve heard about might be rare or insignificant.
If you’re having problems with medication, ask to be switched to another that won’t affect you the same way.
7. You’re not interested in sex lately.
“People are pretty open about their physical complaints, but they’re not so open about sexual issues,” says Judie Brock, certified nurse-midwife at Cooley Dickinson Center for Midwifery Care, in Northampton, Mass.
But women need to talk about emotional and sexual health with their doctor, because it can be a symptom of a physical problem. Loss of desire can signal health issues, such as chronic stress, anxiety, depression or even anorexia. Some pre-menopausal symptoms can also cause sexual problems, such as vaginal dryness.
8. That surgery years ago doesn’t matter.
When you see your doctor, especially for the first time, share the details of your medical history – including the tonsillectomy you had at age 4. Your physician needs background information to diagnose and prescribe the best treatment for you.
Write down your history beforehand, so you don’t forget to mention something important.
How detailed should you be? Tell the doctor about any major illnesses in your immediate family and your previous major illnesses, past surgeries and current conditions. List all medications you’re taking, including vitamins and herbal supplements, along with any adverse reactions you’ve had.
Had any recent X-rays or medical tests? Bring the films or results, if possible.
Besides medical history, jot notes about current symptoms. If you’re having headaches, for example, how often do they occur and at what time of day? How painful are they? What type of pain do they cause – sharp or dull throbbing?
There’s an advantage to being well prepared: You’ll get better treatment.
“If you walk in with a record – even just some notes – and can say ‘I’ve given this some thought,’ you’ll be taken a lot more seriously by the doctor,” Clancy says.
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