Going in for your annual checkup can feel like an interrogation. Doctors may ask questions that pry into aspects of your life you keep hidden from everyone but your closest confidants: your mental and emotional health, alcohol use and even your recent sexual activity. While doctors use this information to make sure they’re treating you appropriately, you might be reluctant to open up about what you feel is too private to share.
But your modesty may be more dangerous than you realize.
You might assume that doctors already have all the facts about your health history, without realizing that even if you’ve been seeing the same doctor for years, medical records aren’t always accurate and not all information is reliably updated between different doctors’ offices. Even if you’ve requested that your information is shared and checked all the right boxes on those endless registration sheets, some offices simply don’t share. And as you might imagine, your doctor isn’t a mind reader. To combat missing or unknown information, here’s what you need to share with your providers.
Any Recent Symptoms
Your doctor will usually ask you if you’ve been sick recently or had a fever or persistent cough, but he can’t possibly cover every symptom for every disease. If you know you haven’t been feeling well, make sure to tell him about any symptoms you’ve been experiencing. This can include pain, rashes, lumps, bumps, bruises that won’t go away, sudden weight loss or gain and even trouble sleeping.
Be honest and concise when sharing your symptoms. This will help your doctor identify the problem and come up with an effective and relevant treatment plan.
All the Medications and Supplements You’re Taking
Making sure your doctor knows about your medications and supplements is critical. First, it helps her make the right diagnosis. Second, it ensures that she doesn’t prescribe any conflicting drugs that would interact poorly. While this information is often part of a patient’s medical record, medications and dosages can change quickly and the medication list on file at your doctor’s office isn’t always accurately updated. Plus, your medical chart might not reflect any new supplements you might have started.
Prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications and even herbal supplements can have adverse interactions with each other, so it’s important for your doctor to know about all the medications you take. This includes things like baby aspirin (if you take it every day), vitamins and herbal medicines. Bring a list of everything you’re currently taking to your next checkup and tell your doctor how much and how often you take them, if anything is working well for you or if you’ve had a bad reaction to anything.
Your doctor will use this information to make sure you’re not taking things that can be dangerous together or may lead to complications for existing health conditions you may have. She’ll also have advice on a more effective course of treatment, especially if your goal is to become less dependent on Rx and OTC medications.
If You Smoke, Drink or Use Illegal Substances
While you may be more hesitant to share this information for a lack of wanting to get lectured or reported to the authorities, doctors aren’t law enforcement. Their job is to collect all the necessary information to provide the best level of care for their patients. If your doctor doesn’t know what you’re taking, he won’t know what tests to run or what health concerns to look for and may end up missing out on an important diagnosis. This is especially important if you’re using recreational drugs, since these can have adverse side effects and interact poorly with prescription drugs.
Strong doctor-patient confidentiality laws guarantee that what you say to your doctor stays with your doctor (with few exceptions). There’s no need to worry that he’ll share your bad habits with anyone, unless you plan to hurt yourself or someone else. He just needs to know so he can provide the best care possible.
Your Sexual History
We’re not talking about the intimate details – think statistics. If you have sex often and/or have multiple partners, it’s important you tell your doctor. The chances of contracting sexually transmitted diseases goes up exponentially the more partners you’ve had. By telling your doctor about it, she can send you to get tested early and often, ensuring any potentially dangerous disease is caught and treated on time.
Pap smear guidelines recommend that low-risk women can go up to three years between getting tested, while someone who’s at higher risk should get tested yearly or even more frequently. The same holds true for HIV, hepatitis and other STI testing for both men and women. So if you’re sexually active, don’t be shy and tell your doctor. She’s not going to judge you. She’s going to treat you appropriately.
How You’re Feeling
Don’t forget to tell your doctor if you’ve been feeling stressed, sad or anxious, particularly if your symptoms don’t seem to be tied to any external factors or they’ve been persistent for weeks. These feelings could be the symptoms of a more serious condition and your doctor can help find a way to manage them effectively. Even if your feelings have an external trigger, like the death of a friend or too many bad days at work, it’s important to let your doctor know about your mental state. There may be therapies that can help.
Doctors may not be therapists, but they can still evaluate whether medication for depression or anxiety may be right for you, or recommend a good counselor or specialist who may be a better fit for your needs. The sooner you speak up, the sooner you can get help and the sooner you can get back to feeling like your typical self.
If You’re Having Trouble Sleeping
Sleep problems often become long-term issues, so even if you’ve just been having some mild insomnia, make sure to share that with your doctor. Many different health issues can contribute to your sleep problem, from anxiety to hormonal imbalances to serious medical conditions like sleep apnea. It works the other way, too, in that sleep problems can exacerbate current medical issues.
What’s worse, sleep disorders can lead to a whole host of health problems down the line, including high blood pressure, diabetes and an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. That’s why it’s better to nip this seemingly minor symptom in the bud, so make sure to tell your doctor.
All About Fatigue
You might think that fatigue is just something that happens when you get older, and while some people experience bouts of tiredness from time to time, the truth is that fatigue can be a symptom of lots of different diseases and conditions. Low levels of energy could be the result of a poor diet, high levels of stress, anemia and even thyroid dysfunction. If you tell your doctor what’s going on, he can run lab tests, identify what’s causing the problem and suggest appropriate remedies.
Don’t Assume Your Doctor Already Knows
Whether there are topics you feel too awkward to talk about, or there are details about your health you expect your doctor to already know about, at the end of the day it’s up to you to make sure your healthcare provider has the correct information to treat you effectively and address all of your health concerns. Providers can only do that if you tell them everything and anything that’s bothering you or impacting your daily life. So don’t be afraid to speak up.