Tell the truth, have you ever lied to your doctor?

If you’d asked me 10 years ago if I’d ever lie to my doctor I would have said no, absolutely not. Honesty between a doctor and patient is necessary to get the best care possible. Lying only endangers your health. However, after being a professional sick person for the past six and a half years I have to admit that, yes, I have told a fib or two or three to my doctors. And yes, I know that’s bad, but I did it anyway.

Some of my lies are about petty stuff, like how much caffeine I drink. I’ve said I just have one cup of coffee a day, but some days I really have two. Other times it’s been more serious. I once got a prescription from my general practitioner, and even though she’d checked to make sure it wouldn’t cause any bad reactions with my other medications she told me to talk to my headache specialist before taking it to be sure it wouldn’t have a bad effect on my headache. I told her I would totally do that, but I totally didn’t. I took the medication and figured if something went wrong I’d just stop taking it. The biggest lie? I once waited several months before increasing the dosage of one of my daily meds like my doctor had prescribed because I was too lazy to start cutting the pills in half. That’s such a stupid reason, but it’s the truth.

So why do I lie even when I know I shouldn’t? There are several reasons.


When you’ve been sick for years you start to feel like an expert
I probably know more about headaches than the average internist. I can name dozens of brand name drugs commonly used to treat headaches and I can match them with their generic counterparts. I would kill at Trivial Pursuit for Migraineurs. Not only that, I’ve successfully used my knowledge to profit. I bought stock in Allergan, the manufacturer or Botox, right before it was approved as a treatment for migraines, and since then the stock price has increased by 200%! At this point they should just hand me a prescription pad and let me treat myself, right? Wrong, of course. While I might be an expert patient and mildly successful stock trader, I still don’t have a medical degree.

Who needs doctors when we have Google?
Even if I didn’t already feel like an expert, it’s so easy to Google your symptoms or read the documentation about a particular medicine that you start to feel like you don’t need a doctor at all. Or if you do, they’ll just rubber stamp whatever you found on the Internet on your own. It’s important to remember that doctors, particularly specialists, have experience and knowledge that can’t be indexed by Google. I should take better advantage of that.

I really don’t want to have a certain conversation
Sometimes I know I’m doing something wrong, like not exercising enough or not taking enough breaks when I use a computer, but I don’t want to be scolded by the doctor about it so I just lie or try not to bring it up. It’s important to remind myself that even if a conversation is difficult to have, avoiding the conversation does not make the underlying problem go away.

Sometimes my goals are different than the doctor’s
When I see my headache specialist every six months, his goal is to give me the best treatment possible, whereas my primary goal is to get my refills approved. In the interest of this goal I might say I’ve had slightly less pain than I really have because I don’t want to adjust dosages or try new medications anymore. I’m doing all right, if not stellar, but if I put on a happy face I can get my drugs and get out of there.

It’s easier to stick to your story than to tell the truth
I fill out the same form whenever I visit my headache specialist and one of the questions asks if I have any trouble going to sleep or staying asleep. I’ve been answering this as “no” for the past few years, but sometimes it takes me 2-3 hours to go to sleep, which means I should be answering “yes” to this question. However, if I were to start answering yes I would have to have a conversation about the problem and eventually tell my doctor, “Oh, yeah, this has actually been going on for years but for some reason I never told you about it until now because I am weird.” It’s just easier to stick to my story than to have a conversation about the fact that I’ve been lying for no reason about something for years.

The thing the makes me feel the worst about lying to my doctor is knowing that the treatment of headache disorders relies on the patient telling the truth about how they feel because there is no scan or test that can tell a doctor how much pain someone is in. Headache doctors rely on accurate self-reporting from their patients. When I tell fibs I’m violating that trust. If I were ever caught in a lie it might make my doctor distrust some of their other patients who aren’t rotten, little liars like me.

And of course, worst case scenario, lying to your doctor can lead to your death. When I think of the actor Heath Ledger who died from a fatal combination of prescription medications, I think, “There’s a guy who needed to be more honest with his doctors.” I don’t think lying about how many cups of coffee I’d had today will kill me, but I probably shouldn’t take the risk. What might seem like an insignificant detail to me might be seen as a medical risk by my doctor.

And what about you, dear reader? Have you ever lied to your doctor? If so, what did you lie about and why?

(By the way, if any of my doctors read this, I just want you to know I never lied to you. I only lied to those other doctors. Seriously. Would I lie to you?)

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (17)
  • Sandy
    4 years ago

    great article. sometimes i think drs. unfortunately become too focused on “trigger avoidance”. I used to lie to my dr and tell him everything was fine bc he would lecture me about managing my triggers. well… when you have about 20 different triggers not a very easy thing to do on a daily basis when working full time. besides, not every trigger can b avoided. so, to skip the lectures, i lied. now, seeing new drs. who listen and now on a different treatment plan and i don’t feel like i have to lie

  • DinaMay
    4 years ago

    I admit to fibbing on occasion. For example, more than one doctor has told me I should cut out caffeine. I did that once. After 3 mos. I went to see the doctor again, told him I’d cut caffeine and that caused a headache. He assured me that would soon passed. I asked how many months it takes before that passes. His eyebrows rose but he admitted I shouldn’t still have a headache 3 months after quitting coffee. So when the next doctor made the same suggestion, I lied & promised to quit. When I returned to that doctor, I told him I’d quit but still had a headache 3 months later. And he too admitted that headache wasn’t caused by quitting caffeine. So the 2nd time around it was all a lie but I didn’t see any point in going through the actual experience more than once.
    But for anyone who’s fibbed about not sleeping well, I strongly suggest you stop. Not sleeping well is a prime migraine trigger and you’re doing yourself a disservice by not exploring that option. You can always tell yet another fib to explain previous lies on the subject. For example you could claim it’s a recent thing, experienced only since your last visit to this doctor. 🙂

  • Jennette Fulda
    4 years ago

    I just want to say thanks to everyone who commented on this article. I am heartened to know I’m not the only one who’s fibbed to her doctors.

  • Ann B
    4 years ago

    Also guilty, but something happened to me this summer which was much more dangerous. I ended up in the ER with very low blood pressure and heart rate due to a bad mix of prescriptions (this had happened to me twice before, so I knew what it was and what drugs were causing it, and both my PCP and headache specialist knew about it and we thought we had the dosages under control). Amazingly, the ER nurses and doctor did NOT want to hear what meds I was taking. Ever. I tried to tell them twice and my husband, who was with me, started telling one RN who turned her back on him and walked out the door. So I am feeling somewhat justified in thinking I can handle my meds better than at least some healthcare professionals. Very scary.

  • Rachel Cooper
    4 years ago

    I feel that I lie sometimes because I actually feel like my neurologist doesn’t really care and isn’t working hard to find something that will help me. Some just don’t care, their office is just a revolving door.

    I recently started with a new neurologist though. And I’m feeling more hopeful. I am going to try to be more honest.

  • Jules2dl
    4 years ago

    Usually I don’t say that I like to have a glass (or 2) of wine or a cocktail at night. I’ll say a few drinks/week.
    Alcohol is rarely a trigger for me, but I still feel that people will judge me for drinking it when they know I get migraines.
    My best and longest friend is a pharmacist, so I always check out any new meds with her, and I also ask if alcohol is okay with them.

  • Madalin
    4 years ago

    I can relate to the getting in and out part to just try and get my prescriptions filled! Often I lie when the doctor says “Is there anything else that has been bothering you?” when I respond with “No, just that” and really in the back of my head I have a crazy long list of so many horrible side effects from my medication. That is also part of how I “just stick to the story” because I don’t want to come across like a mentally ill hypochondriac if I was to spend ages going through all the things I think are wrong with me! I can cope with all the rest as long as I have my migraines under control, so why waste time ranting on about it?

  • Tricia
    4 years ago

    Story of my life! Great article. Sometimes the only relief I have is knowing that I am not alone.

  • Margaret
    4 years ago

    You are not alone! My lies run about the same path. The coffee, the sleep, the occasional laziness. Sometimes I just get so tired of fighting. I want to live a “normal” lifestyle without worrying about every thing I put into my mouth and taking all these damn pills. If I tell my doc that, I’m afraid they won’t take me as seriously or treat me with the same level of concern.

  • RachelRoo
    4 years ago

    I am also guilty of small lies, and sometimes bigger ones. I’ve said a month was “not too bad” when it was actually pretty bad because in the moment in an appointment I felt like being positive. Not the best way to get good care, but sometimes feeling like things are getting better is the only way to keep on going on. Mostly I wanted to comment though because it slays me that you bought stock in Allergan. Why didn’t I think of that? Perfect!!

  • Jennette Fulda
    4 years ago

    Sadly, I only invested $50. If I’d known it was going to skyrocket I would have put half my life savings in there 🙂

  • Deborah J
    4 years ago

    I, too, am guilty. Having tried every medication and treatment available for my “20 days a month for last 25 years” migraine history, I feel I know what works best. Just give me my refills, thank you. My worst lie….I had a mild MI (heart attack) a few years ago and didn’t tell my neurologist for fear he would stop prescribing my Imitrex! Also, like the author, I no longer mention I have trouble sleeping. The one time I did, he wanted to send me to his sleep disorder clinic for a night! No, thanks!

  • Sally
    4 years ago

    Your article made me think about something I do but never really think about. I believe in my case it mostly comes from being a professional patient, which I’ve been for nearly 20 years. I get tired of listing all my medications and having to spell most of them. I’m tired of filling out the same forms over and over. In this era of technology, why can’t they come up with a universal form you can fill out once? I’m also to the point where I don’t want to try any new meds, so just give me my refills and I’ll be on my way. This will definitely make me think at my apt next week!

  • marycr8on
    4 years ago

    Sally, I know what you mean about the forms! My address and basic information hasn’t changed much in 32 years. As for the meds list, I wrote down all the vitamins, supplements and medications I take along with dosages and keep a list in my purse at all times. You never know, if you were away from home and in an accident, it’s all there.

  • Shane
    4 years ago

    Totally guilty, especially when seeing someone new or an ER or Urgent Care Dr. It’s all about giving out the least amount of info to get my shot or my refills as you stated. In the middle of a crisis migraine I don’t have time to go through ALL of the truth that led me to that spot, I just need help. So many Dr’s now are on the lookout for DSB and the TV Migraineurs (people that watch an Excedrin Migraine commercial and feel they can now speak with authority on the subject because of that one time they had that one headache where they had to lay down and take an aspirin to resolve) that the actual truth might kill your chance for treatment. Its stupid really, but my guess is we all have done it in some fashion or another. Great article by the way…

  • Katie M. Golden moderator
    4 years ago

    Guilty as charged!
    Great article!
    -Katie

  • Vondalee
    4 years ago

    I used to teach my kids to NEVER lie to their doctor, that things were just too important and your nurse or doctor will not judge you on your weight or such things and you will get better medical advice when you are accurate.
    But I admit, I have lied to my doctor about how much coffee I drink… some days I have a few cups & some days I have none. It just depends on how I feel that morning… what I feel like having, not if I need the caffeine (I don’t). So I think it averages out and I will say that I have one or two cups in the morning.
    I used to say I don’t smoke, because I smoke very little. But recently I have been honest, saying that I MIGHT smoke one pack in an entire month which is true.
    I also don’t lie about my drinking because I drink about 1 or 2 drinks every couple/few weeks. When we had more money, we could go out to dinner every few weeks and I could actually have a few drinks to where I was “tipsy” LOL. I honestly don’t drink that much because alcohol addiction runs in my family.

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