How much you smoke, drink, eat, exercise and whether you use protection during sex or while out in the sun matters. Doctors weigh in on what matters most.

Your surgical history

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When you first see a new doctor because you switched jobs and healthcare providers or relocated to a new town, you’ll be filling out tons of medical and insurance forms. (Know the secrets your insurer might be keeping from you.) A biggie in the long slew of “yes” and “no” checkboxes refers to your surgical history. From minor procedures to major operations, Manhattan plastic surgeon David Shafer, MD, says being honest about your past will help alleviate complications in your future. Though many of his surgeries are elective, every surgeon needs background info to minimize your risk for scar tissue, reactions, and more. “I always find it concerning when a patient tells me they have never had surgery, and when I examine them they have what are clearly facelift incisions,” he shares.

Your age

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As you begin to approach middle-age, start menopause or feel those aches and pains of getting older, you might be tempted to tell a little white lie about exactly what decade is on your birth certificate. Instead of fibbing, try laughing about your increasing years by working in some senior jokes. While it’s likely not a big deal to fudge the truth to a bartender, grocer, or random stranger at networking event, your doctor needs to know the honest truth about everything, including how many candles were on your last birthday cake. Not only is your age a crucial element to how they prescribe a treatment, but it’s information they’re going to find out, no matter what. And lying about it? It could break that essential doctor-patient trust. “I know patients don’t like admitting their age, but it’s very important to be truthful,” Dr. Shafer says. “If a patient tells me they are 49 but then their insurance card shows a birthday indicating they are 57, I have to wonder if the patient is lying about anything else.”

What you eat


After trying to drop the unwanted pounds around your midsection without much success, you make an appointment to see your doc to figure out a game plan. If you’re not being truthful about your habits, your doctor won’t be able to help much. (Check to see if these 40 fast and easy weight-loss tips can help.)

“Studies have shown that patients underestimate how much they are eating and how often they indulge in unhealthy food. Many patients don’t want to admit the difficulties they have with complying with the prescribed diet so it is easier for them to deny that they are eating anything ‘bad,'” says Tania Dempsey, MD, an integrative doctor in Armonk, New York.

Instead of feeling shameful for giving into sweet cravings or not working out for a week (or several), explain what’s tripping you up so your doctor can give her best advice. After all, since she doesn’t eat every meal with you she can only assist based on the info you share. “If I think that the diet intervention isn’t working as expected, first I am going to question why, and then I might have to resort to more aggressive treatment options. If patients admit to their indiscretions, then doctors can work with the patient to develop strategies to keep their diet on track,” she says.

How you’re using medications

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When you can’t shake a cough or you’re experiencing an abnormal breakout, a doctor’s job is to not only diagnose you, but to help prescribe you the right concoction of medicine to overcome the illness ASAP. (Check out these common medication mistakes.) However, if you come back complaining that you’re still not over the hump, it’s important to be honest when your doctor asks how often you took the pills or how you applied the cream. “If you are not truthful about whether you are actually using your medications, then we cannot accurately gauge if they are or are not working for you,” explains Manhattan dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD.

He explains that often times when patients come back for their follow-up appointment, he quizzes them on how they specifically have been using a topical medication. “It may come out that they used them for a week and gave up, are only spot treating and not applying to the full face as directed, or didn’t even fill the prescription at all. Acne medications only work if you use them properly and for an adequate amount of time,” he says.

And while Dr. Zeichner specializes in acne and skin care, the same logic applies to all prescriptions. “You are not helping yourself if you are not using them, and you are certainly not helping yourself if you aren’t being honest about not using them when speaking to your doctor,” he adds.

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