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Talking With Your Doctor: Some Secrets SHOULD be Shared

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Smiling doctor with nurse in background
Tuesday, July 31, 2012

It's natural to hide embarrassing little secrets from our family and friends. But when it comes to your doctor, some secrets need to be shared. Your doctor has to know about certain behavior patterns and (even seemingly small things like changes in sleep patterns) in order to treat you now and in the future. And all information shared with your doctor is bound by doctor-patient confidentiality. Following are some potentially uncomfortable topics that you should discuss with your doctor.

Drinking and smoking – Your doctor is not there to lecture you. He needs to know about all substance use to know the best way to treat you. A long-time heavy drinker should have his or her liver checked for potentially life-threatening conditions. The alcohol can also affect other prescription medications. Likewise, because smoking is a significant risk factor in many other diseases, smokers need to be monitored more closely.

Forgetfulness – Many people think increased forgetfulness simply happens when you get older, however, there can also be medical reasons for forgetfulness. If you are concerned that you or someone you know may have a serious memory problem, talk with your doctor. Forgetfulness can be caused by many different conditions and your doctor can help you determine what may be causing your memory loss.

Sexual dysfunction – Sexual dysfunction or loss of sex drive can simply be the side effects of certain severe medical conditions such as coronary heart disease or diabetes.

Seeing another doctor – Let your VA health care team know of the treatments, tests and medications you have received from other non-VA doctors to prevent potentially deadly treatment conflicts.

Use of over-the-counter medicines, herbal supplements and vitamins – Many over-the-counter medications and herbal remedies do not mix well with prescribed medications. Make sure you tell your doctor about all over-the-counter medications and herbal remedies you take.

Stress, depression or abuse – If you are suffering from stress, depression, physical or emotional abuse orother related issues, your doctor can help, which may include referrals to other health care professionals. The VA has a wide range of mental health services available to Veterans in both inpatient and outpatient settings and diverse locations ranging from the main VA hospital to community and rural clinics. Some services can even be provided virtually (over the computer)—bringing care directly to you.
Defying doctor’s orders – If you find yourself disagreeing with what your doctor has prescribed for your condition (or if a certain medication isn’t working), TELL THEM. Communication with your VA health care team is essential for good health. You and your team are working together to keep you as healthy as possible and avoid worsening your condition.

Sleep loss and excessive fatigue – Many people ignore sleep issues, but these problems can quickly become chronic. There are many physical and emotional factors that can lead to restless sleep that are easily treated, but it could also indicate a more serious condition or illness.