Secrets Women Keep From Their Doctors

... and why not telling all may be harmful to your health.

Sarah Kehoe
Let's be honest—when it comes to confessing your most personal issues to doctors, it's tempting to fudge the details, whether it's those diet pills you borrowed from a friend or that fling you had with a neighbor. You keep quiet for seemingly good reasons: You don't think it's important, you're embarrassed, you feel rushed—or, most likely, you simply don't want to look bad, says Barbara Korsch, MD, a professor at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine and author of The Intelligent Patient's Guide to the Doctor-Patient Relationship. "We tend to believe that if our doctor likes and respects us, we'll receive better treatment," she says.

But revealing all can do more than just improve the quality of your health care—in some cases it may even save your life. We talked to top MDs to find out the most common secrets women keep, and what you gain by telling the truth.

'Those pills you prescribed? I haven't been taking them.'
You leave your doctor's office with a prescription—and every intention of filling it. But then you never make it to the pharmacy, or you discover that your insurance plan doesn't cover that brand. Even if you do get the pills, you might forget to take one, or you might toss them halfway through your treatment because you're feeling better. Then, when you go for a follow-up, you say, "Of course, I took them!"—despite your doc pointing out that your symptoms are still there.

Why you should spill: As embarrassing as it might be to admit it, "If you don't tell us you're skipping pills, we'll assume you're taking them and they aren't working, so we might change the dosage or the prescription"—which may put off your recovery and cause side effects, says Laura Knobel, MD, a family physician in Walpole, Massachusetts, and a member of the board of directors for the American Academy of Family Physicians.

And when you toss antibiotics before you're done with the full course, you may not kill off all the infectious bacteria in your body, leaving them resistant to drugs and possibly causing the illness to come back with greater force. If money is an issue, talk to your doctor about switching to a less-pricey medication, rather than borrowing pills (they may be expired or the wrong dose for you). Bring up, too, any herbal supplements you're taking—they're still medicine and may not mix well with your prescription.

'I'm doing a cleanse to lose 10 pounds.'
You spent a week consuming nothing but lemon juice and cayenne pepper—and you know your doc won't approve.

Why you should spill: Any extreme diet—from those involving laxativesor stimulants to "healthier" versions (like juice fasts)—has its risks even if you're in good shape and follow it for just a few days. You can become dehydrated and throw off your electrolyte balance, which can harm the heart and kidneys, for starters. "Cleanse diets can also strip you of micronutrients like magnesium and vitamin D," says Pamela F. Gallin, MD, author of How to Survive Your Doctor's Care. Talk to your doctor about a better weight-loss plan—or, if you're going to do the cleanse anyway, at least check in to ensure you're going about it as safely as possible.

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Marisa Cohen
Last Updated: February 11, 2011

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