Do You Lie to Your Doctor?

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When asked by their doctors, patients fudge the truth about almost everything: how much they drink or smoke, how unhealthily they eat, how little they exercise, how many sexual partners they’ve had, what drugs they’re taking — among other things.

Sometimes the small untruths are innocent oversights; other times, they’re conscious misstatements. Either way, they matter. By withholding the facts, patients hamper their physicians’ ability to give them proper care, potentially putting themselves at risk of adverse drug interactions or developing a preventable chronic condition.

The consequences can be even more serious. As the Arizona Republic‘s Connie Midey reported:

In a research review released this month, Mayo Clinic and University of Washington-Seattle researchers found that almost 45 percent of people who committed suicide had seen their primary-care physician weeks or even days before. Some of them may have told their doctor they felt suicidal, and some may have been asked but denied it. But the researchers said doctors pose the question to patients with depression in less than half of cases, putting the burden on patients to raise the subject — or to answer truthfully if asked.

A 2004 WebMD survey revealed that nearly half of 1,500 respondents knowingly lied or stretched the truth when speaking with their primary-care physicians, reported Midey.

“I think drinking and drug abuse are the two things that people most often tend not to be honest about,” Dr. Andrew Carroll of the Renaissance Medical Group in Chandler, Ariz., told the Republic, noting that he was taught in medical school to double the amount of alcohol patients claimed to consume.

Regardless of the behavior, Carroll said, “if patients know they’re doing something wrong, they don’t tell us because they don’t want to get a lecture. But we’re not the cops. We’re not going to bust anybody.”

Read the full Arizona Republic story here.

Meredith Melnick is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @MeredithCM. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.