What to tell your doctor
Posted on 26 April 2017
While you don’t need to tell your doctor about the time you grazed your knee in preschool, not disclosing enough personal information could result in incorrect diagnoses and ineffective treatments. We look at what you should always tell your doctor to ensure they give you the right tools to stay healthy.
It may seem as if your doctor goes through the same list of questions at every consultation, but each question has a purpose – to get to the root of a health concern. Not answering each question honestly could throw your doctor off course and delay recovery or even prove life threatening.
Areas where patients shouldn’t fail to disclose important information include:
- Family history of illness
- Eating habits and level of physical activity
- Habits such as alcohol overindulgence, smoking or excessive caffeine intake
- Medications and drugs including herbal remedies
- Supplements and vitamins
- Mood or self-harming thoughts
- Previous allergies and personal history
Family and personal history of disease
Doctors need to know about any history of cancer, embolism, heart disease or other illnesses in your family, as these put you at greater risk of developing the same disease. A family history of embolism or cancer, for example, may mean that your doctor would avoid prescribing medications such as contraception pills if it could increase this risk. It will also ensure that your doctor recommends the right screening tests as well as preventative medication such as blood thinners.
The same is true of your personal disease history. If, for example, you’ve had an adverse reaction to any medication, you should alert your doctor about the risk of a future allergic reaction so they can prescribe an alternative.
Certain medications are contraindicated in combination with other remedies, so your doctor needs to know about all herbal, recreational and pharmaceutical drugs that you take on a regular basis or intend to take after leaving their rooms.
For example, marijuana can interfere with medications such as antidepressants, aspirin, blood thinners and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like ibuprofen). It can also affect the symptoms you display, such as your blood sugar levels and blood pressure.
There is a window period of a few weeks between falling pregnant and testing positive on a pregnancy test, so you should alert your doctor if you are in that window period. If you suspect you may be pregnant, there is a host of medications or screening tests such as X-rays that your doctor won’t be permitted to prescribe because they could harm the baby. This is especially true during the first trimester.
Not disclosing a running injury for fear of being temporarily ‘benched’ could result in a more serious injury down the line. At the other end of the spectrum is the fear of appearing irresponsible when disclosing daily habits such as alcohol use, high sugar consumption or risky sexual behavior, but these could cause a number of diseases that your doctor needs to look out for.
If you fear you are developing an alcohol dependency, are trying to quit smoking or suffer from another type of addiction, your GP can help you to get support.
All GPs and specialists are trained to treat mood problems. Depression or anxiety can interfere with work, relationships and even cause other disorders such as eating problems and obesity. Any thoughts tending towards self-harm should be investigated, because suicide is a rising problem in South Africa – especially among teenagers.
Remember that doctors are legally bound to honour patient confidentiality (unless they are told otherwise by a court ruling or public safety concern). They’re not there to judge you – they’re there to look out for you.