Lying to your Doctor about Chronic Pain

Karen Lee Richards Health Guide
  • Have you ever told your doctor that you rarely drink alcohol, when you actually have a drink every day?  Have you neglected to mention that you take St. John's Wort every day?  Or have you reported taking your medication as prescribed, when the truth is you take it when you feel like it or when you remember it? 

    It's not unusual for people to lie to their doctors, stretch the truth, or simply omit information.  The problem is, lying to your doctor can be hazardous to your health.  At the very least, your doctor won't be able to give you the best care; at worst, it you could be putting your life at risk.

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    Some of the things people tend to lie about the most often include:

    •  How much they smoke
    •  How much alcohol they drink
    •  How much exercise they get
    •  Whether they are taking their medication as prescribed
    •  Whether they are taking over-the-counter medications
    •  Whether they are taking herbal supplements

    Why do patients lie to their doctors?  Sometimes it's a false sense of pride.  After all, you don't want her to think you're a lush.  Or perhaps you just want to be perceived as a good patient, doing everything you're supposed to be doing.  Maybe you're afraid that if you're completely honest, the doctor will lecture you.  Or if you feel the doctor is rushed, you might not want to bring up another issue or ask a question. 

    While these are all understandable feelings, they are not good reasons to put yourself at risk.  Other than perhaps escaping a few moments of embarrassment, there is no upside to lying to your doctor.  On the other hand, there are huge downsides. 

    For example, one of the most common questions patients fudge on relates to alcohol – whether you drink and if so, how much.  Yet if you are taking any kind of medication, this can be one of the most dangerous lies you can tell your doctor.  Alcohol can alter the effects and side effects of most drugs.  In some cases, like with blood pressure medications, it can decrease the effectiveness of the medication.  In other cases, as with opioid pain relievers, it can increase the sedating effects of the medication to the point that it could result in an accidental overdose.  Even combining alcohol with a seemingly mild over-the-counter medication like acetaminophen (Tylenol) can result in liver damage. 

    So, please, the next time you see your doctor, if you're tempted to stretch the truth a little, think twice.  If you're still tempted, think a third time.  You have nothing to gain, but a whole lot to lose.


Published On: October 19, 2009