8 Things You Need to Tell Your Doctor
Here are eight things your doc absolutely needs to know, as they can indicate some pretty serious—even life-threatening—conditions that may need to be ruled out with tests, considered when issues occur down the line, or at the very least impact your ongoing overall health and wellbeing.
1. You have medical conditions that run in your family
If you’re like most new patients, when you filled out the family history portion of your intake forms, there are definite yes/no boxes that you checked. But, admit it, there are those boxes where we should check yes instead of no and vice versa, whether out of embarrassment, wanting to seem healthier than we actually are or not really knowing. Let’s just say it—doctors know we fib sometimes.
But when it comes to your health, getting the best care and giving your physician the knowledge they need to do their job, you need to reveal everything pertinent in your family’s and your own health history—whether it’s cancer, heart disease, stroke or something potentially embarrassing like herpes. (Cold sores, also called ‘fever blisters,’ which indicate herpes simplex virus 1 or HSV-1, and genital herpes, herpes simplex 2 or HSV-2, can be passed along generationally.)
So, no matter what the condition or propensity for symptoms through your family history, you need to be fully transparent with your doctor. Don’t be shy, they’ve heard it all before and every piece of information small and large helps them piece together the puzzle of every individual’s health complexities. This can help with prevention and future diagnoses down the road.
2. How much you really drink or smoke
You smoked for a year in college but that was decades ago. You ‘don’t smoke’ but have a couple of cigarettes or cigars with friends now and then over dinner. Does Doc really need to know? You check the ‘I’m not a smoker’ box.
How much do you drink? In your head you answer truthfully ‘four glasses of wine every night’ as your pen checks the ‘2-4 glasses a week’ box. With smoking, drinking and any kind of recreational drug—even CBD vapes or oils that many are increasingly taking to relieve pain and stress—whether you do now or did previously but aren’t any longer, are critical factors that, yes, your doc really does absolutely need to know to better manage and protect your health, and potentially screen for issues. Many doctors understand more about social vices than you think. In fact, there’s a chance your doc is engaging in some of these behaviors or has been there, done that. If illegal drugs are involved, you won’t be reported: Everything you share with your doctor is under strict patient-doctor confidentiality, unless they deem you an immediate and present danger to yourself or others.
3. You take over-the-counter medication or herbal supplements, or do alternative treatments
Many people think that because herbal supplements are natural and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are readily available that there’s no danger of them having any impact with prescription medications. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Overloading on minerals and vitamins can cause health risks and even damage your health, with Chinese supplements presenting the most risk. OTC medications claiming to aid weight loss can damage your heart and other organs. In addition, if, for example, you have back pain issues and do cupping, an alternative treatment that draw blood to the surface of the skin, or gua sha which does the same by scraping the skin and muscles with a smooth stone, this can impact your doctor’s diagnosis, certain conditions and treatment protocol.
4. You’re not taking your medications
Many people don’t take their medications as prescribed, let alone follow doctors’ orders. Maybe the meds give you unpleasant side effects. Perhaps you feel better, so you stop taking the course of medications altogether. This is called noncompliance or nonadherence and it’s a huge issue that impacts a doctor’s ability to treat symptoms and manage your health—and for chronic conditions can cause preventable deaths. The statistics are shocking: In the United States, nonadherence accounts for up to 50 percent of treatment failures, approximately 125,000 deaths, and up to 25 percent of hospitalizations every year. At the very least, not taking your medications can make even a discrete short-term health issue drag on. If you can’t tolerate your medications or have stopped taking them, tell your doctor who can discuss alternatives and explain potential negative outcomes if you don’t take them as prescribed.
5. You’re losing weight unexpectedly
Unexplained weight loss—when you’re shedding pounds but not trying to lose weight—can potentially be a sign of a variety of mild to serious physical or psychological conditions, especially for people over 50 years old, and especially women in menopause who would typically be putting on weight due to shifts in metabolism, not losing it. And it doesn’t take much. Losing just 10 pounds over a short amount of time can potentially indicate something is wrong, and the list of possibilities is long—from signaling a side effect to a medication or dental issues, to diabetes or cancer. If you can’t explain your weight loss, your physician needs to know.
6. You’re extremely tired all the time or unable to sleep
We often brush off sleep issues as par for the course of our busy lives and getting older. But not being able to fall asleep, restless sleep, or waking up frequently in the night can be indications of treatable medical issues. Your doctor can test for causes, including anemia, thyroid issues, depression, heart disease, liver and kidney issues, and diabetes, to name a few. Sleep is also critical for our overall health and wellbeing—our body needs sleep for our cells to replenish and for healthy brain function. Lack of sleep has been found to affect memory and mood, contribute to migraines, and play a part in being overweight. It can also indicate sleep apnea and other sleeping disorders. So don’t overlook even short-term sleep disturbances. It’s all part of your overall health puzzle.
7. You’re incredibly stressed or depressed
Most of us live busy stressful lives, but there are many serious issues related to ongoing stress—when cortisol, the stress hormone, is constantly working in overdrive. Stress can cause issues and exacerbate existing conditions—from heart disease and headaches to asthma, depression, gastrointestinal issues, and more. You may feel that sharing your stress and depression is a sign of weakness or that you don’t want to think you have a mental health issue. But it’s important to discuss with your doctor so they can help assess the root cause and prescribe stress management tactics and possibly medications to help keep your emotions on an even keel to prevent potentially serious issues.
8. You lead an unhealthy lifestyle
Nobody wants to admit they’re not physically active, make bad food choices and do things they know are putting their health at risk. But it’s important to come clean to your doctor for all the same reasons. She or he needs to be able to assess symptoms and conditions as they present in the context of your overall lifestyle, which plays a big factor in helping you stay well. For example, if you have a long commute and sit all day in an office, or tend to be a homebody, mostly sedentary instead of active, or you drink coffee all day long, your physician needs to know, as these lifestyle habits can cause and contribute to any number of medical issues. Your lifestyle is fundamentally the underlying foundation that supports your health, and your doc can give you great general lifestyle guidance to best support your current and future wellbeing.