“Everybody lies.” A familiar catchphrase from House aficionados, but for the uninitiated, House follows a doctor (Dr. Gregory House) that solves mysterious medical cases where the patient is often concealing a critical piece of their health record that is the key to curing their condition.
House’s sarcastic and dark humor bedside manner is definitely the highlight of the show, but the big lesson to be learned from his medical work is that being honest with your doctor about your medical history is crucial to understanding what’s going on in your body. With 38 percent of millennials claiming they haven’t been to a primary care physician in over two years, and 45 percent of those surveyed claiming they have been putting off a health issue, there is a major gap in communication with our medical pros.
We talked to Dr. Denzel Cole, a diagnostic radiologist at Larkin Hospital in Miami, to run down a few things you should always mention to your doc whether it be your yearly physical (and yes, you should go to a physical every year) or an unexpected visit to the ER.
Alcohol and drug usage
One of the most common things patients fudge the numbers on is how many drinks they have per week. We’ve all probably given the answer “I only drink socially” at a few doctor’s visits in the past (I know I have, cut to me at a local brunch on my 10th bottomless mimosa), but it’s always best to give the honest truth, especially if you wind up in the ER.
“If you’re a heavier drinker, what you get prescribed for a condition that comes up might make you worse, or cause different problems” says Dr. Cole.
Recreational drug use is also something you should disclose with your doctor “Different drugs can raise or lower things like your metabolism, your seizure threshold, or even mimic different diseases, ” he continues.
Worried about disclosing recreational drug use to your doc? Physician-patient privilege is built around the idea of building trust. It’s accepted that for a physician to fully treat a patient, the patient must trust the doctor enough to discuss everything, no matter how uncomfortable. Disclosing drug use (even if it’s an illegal one) with your doctor cannot be used against you.
Diet and exercise
“Your doctor will assume a ‘typical’ diet unless you note restrictions or allergies,” explains Dr. Cole. It’s important to tell your doctor about changes to your diet, especially if you’re newly vegetarian/vegan, or if you have been feeling negative side effects from certain foods.
“For example, symptoms of being sick may be undiagnosed celiac disease,” points out Dr. Cole. Major swings in weight or exercise routine intensity could also be a sign of behavioral issues such as an eating disorder or anxiety.
Did a chill just go down your spine, or is it just me? Jokes aside, it’s highly important that we are open with the most private parts of our lives with our healthcare professionals, including our sexual history.
“Patients have the tendency to over or underestimate the amount of sexual partners they have had sometimes,” notes Dr. Cole. “Some patients may have different definitions of intercourse, such as people in same-sex relationships.”
Although these lines may be blurred in the LGBTQIA+ population, it’s important to disclose any sexual activity that might be deemed high risk so that your doctor can look out for symptoms. “For example, if a patient has an STD, they are required to tell their sexual partners about their diagnosis,” he says.
Supplements you’re taking
We all know to talk to our doctor or a new practitioner we meet in the ER or at a specialist about any prescriptions we are taking, but what about non-prescribed supplements?
In the wellness world, we are bombarded by products touting superfood ingredients that promise remarkable results, and even claim they can replace western medicines like pain relievers or prescriptions for gastrointestinal issues.
“In the U.S., we have the tendency to think ‘more is better’ when it comes to supplements and wellness products,” Dr. Cole cautions. “Upping your intake of supplements may not necessarily lead to faster results.”
Sometimes, overdoing it on things like Emergen-C can actually lead to health problems, such as kidney stones. (True story: My own mom was taking two to three Emergen-C’s PER DAY, and ended up with a kidney stone herself).
Not only that, but some supplements might interact with prescriptions you are taking, so it’s always a good idea to mention anything you are taking on a regular basis.
“It’s best to consult your doctor to see if there are any deficiencies you might need to supplement for,” says Dr. Cole. He also mentions taking any wellness product’s claims with a grain of salt; while most are harmless, they don’t necessarily produce measurable health benefits.
How you’re *really* feeling
Mental health is still not easy to talk about, but letting your doctor know you’re feeling extra stressed at work or just experienced a loss in your family can give them a clue to whether your symptoms are chronic.
“People are quick to say stressors aren’t affecting them or that they’re ‘fine’, it’s almost a knee-jerk reaction.” says Dr. Cole. “Many patients are afraid to receive a mental health diagnosis. However, avoiding a diagnosis doesn’t improve your condition, and often makes it even worse.”
Your doctor can assist you in finding the right medical team to deal with any mental health issues you experience, whether that’s a therapist, psychiatrist, or even a community or group to get involved with.
“There is a spectrum of mental health disorders, and they are all treated differently,” says Dr. Cole. “Giving an accurate history and description of how you are feeling allows your medical team to treat you effectively.”
Remember the importance of relationship-building with your doctor
Dr. Cole notes that most Millennials and Gen Zers should keep in mind the importance of continuous care and building a partnership with your health team.
“After you turn 26 and get off your parent’s health insurance, most people don’t know much about the healthcare system or how it works” Dr. Cole acknowledges while recommending that everyone see a general practitioner, and to get connected to one early. “Continuity with the same physician and system is what helps you build trust to open up and share about your care.”
Dr. Cole also addresses the elephant in the room: What about the cost of healthcare?
“Even though most people don’t like to think of it, even preventative health comes with a bill,” says Dr. Cole. Most work insurance policies cover preventative care, and it’s the number one way to avoid a hefty ER bill or expensive treatment in the future. The more open we can be with our doctor, the more effectively they can put the right team in place to ensure we continue living happy, healthy lives.