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Why Telling Your Doctor Little Lies Could Have Big Effects on Your Health

We’d all like to think that we’re being honest with our doctors, at least most of the time. However, recent research suggest that the majority of us aren’t — and that could have negative consequences for our health in the long run.

A November 2018 study published in JAMA Network Open analyzed a national online survey of two populations that asked questions about doctor-patient relationships. One population consisted of 2,011 people who were an average of 36 years old, while the other group was made up of 2,499 participants who were 61 on average. As it turned out, 60 to 80 percent of all participants surveyed admitted that they had stretched the truth when speaking with their doctors about info that could be relevant to their health.

Lying about food intake and exercise habits were pretty common fibs among participants. However, some people admitted that they didn’t speak up if they disagreed with a doctor’s recommendation. Some of them also confessed that they refused to tell a doctor if they didn’t understand certain medical instructions. Researchers said they have a hunch why these folks felt so inclined to withhold certain information from people who were trying to help them.

“Most people want their doctor to think highly of them,” says the study’s senior author Angela Fagerlin, PhD, in a press release. “They’re worried about being pigeonholed as someone who doesn’t make good decisions.”

Indeed, many of the participants explained that they told these white lies because they didn’t want to be judged for their behavior or be lectured about any poor decisions they had made. Some folks were just too embarrassed to speak up and tell their clinician the full truth about their lifestyle choices.

Researchers were “surprised” by how many participants had knowingly withheld information from their doctor — and also by how many of those same people were willing to admit to lying in the survey.

“If patients are withholding information about what they’re eating, or whether they are taking their medication, it can have significant implications for their health,” said the study’s first author. Andrea Gurmankin Levy, PhD. “Especially if they have a chronic illness.”

That’s why researchers are hoping to repeat the study and talk to participants immediately after they go to the doctor, to find out more about what causes them to be more open with certain doctors and not so much with others. After all, it takes at least two to make a conversation — and talks about health is no exception

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