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What happens if you lie to a doctor about smoking?

Being honest with your doctor about your smoking habits is crucial for your health. However, many smokers find themselves tempted to lie or minimize their smoking out of shame or fear of judgment. While this may seem harmless in the moment, lying to your doctor about smoking can have serious consequences for your health and medical care.

Why do people lie to their doctors about smoking?

There are many reasons why people may not be entirely truthful with their doctor about their smoking habits:

  • Embarrassment or shame about smoking
  • Fear of being judged or lectured about smoking
  • Belief that the amount they smoke is insignificant
  • Hope that they can quit smoking on their own
  • Concern that the doctor will be angry or disapprove of their smoking
  • Worry that the doctor will pressure them to quit smoking before they are ready
  • Denial about the extent of their nicotine addiction

While these feelings are normal, lying ultimately damages the doctor-patient relationship that’s so important for health.

How lying impacts your medical care

Lying to your doctor about smoking has several dangerous effects on the care you receive:

  • Inaccurate health assessments. Smoking significantly impacts nearly every organ in the body. If your doctor doesn’t know your true smoking status, they can’t accurately assess health risks.
  • Missed opportunities for smoking cessation help. Doctors can provide counseling, medication, and other resources to help people quit smoking.
  • Improper dosing of medications. Smoking can change how some medications are metabolized. Dosing may need to be adjusted.
  • Problems interpreting test results. Smoking alters certain blood tests and imaging results. Your doctor may miss something without full info.
  • Failure to recommend important screening tests. Doctors recommend cancer and lung screenings for smokers that non-smokers may not need.
  • Worsening of smoking-related diseases. Not receiving proper medications and treatment plans tailored for smokers can worsen diseases like COPD, heart disease, and lung cancer.

Essentially, an inaccurate smoking history hampers your doctor’s ability to treat you effectively. You may fail to get potentially life-saving interventions if your doctor doesn’t know you smoke.

Diseases caused or worsened by smoking

Smoking significantly increases your risk of developing numerous serious medical conditions. Lying makes it harder for your doctor to catch these conditions early and manage them appropriately:

  • Cancer: Lung, mouth, throat, esophagus, pancreas, kidney, bladder, cervix, stomach, colon
  • Heart disease: Heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, peripheral artery disease
  • Lung disease: COPD, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, asthma
  • Other conditions: Osteoporosis, eye disease, rheumatoid arthritis, gum disease, diabetes complications, erectile dysfunction

Studies show smokers lose at least 10 years of life compared to non-smokers. These diseases afflict and kill smokers at higher rates across the board. Your doctor can provide life-saving care if they know about your smoking.

When the impact of smoking is most critical

There are certain situations when it’s especially crucial that your doctor knows accurate details about your smoking history:

  • During general checkups: This allows your doctor to recommend appropriate cancer and lung screenings, labs, and behavioral counseling when you’re relatively healthy.
  • When you’re sick: Smoking-related complications can worsen illnesses like the flu, pneumonia, colds, etc.
  • Before surgery: Smoking increases the risk of complications during and after many major surgeries.
  • During pregnancy: Smoking endangers the health of the mother and baby. Doctors need to monitor the pregnancy closely.
  • When you’re hospitalized: Smoking can impede healing for many major health events like heart attack, stroke, injury, etc.
  • At diagnosis of smoking-related disease: Early, tailored treatment is key to mitigating smoking’s damage at this point.

Essentially, the sicker you are and the more urgent your medical situation, the more critical it becomes for your doctor to know about your smoking.

Examples of how lying directly harms your health

To illustrate the danger, here are some examples of how lying about smoking can directly harm you:

  • A man suffers a heart attack but denies being a smoker. His doctor prescribes medication doses for a non-smoker, resulting in complications.
  • A woman hides her 2 pack/day smoking habit from her OBGYN during pregnancy. As a result, the doctor fails to recognize early signs of low birth weight.
  • A lifetime smoker sees a dermatologist about a growing mole but lies and says he never smoked. The doctor determines it’s benign when it could be melanoma.
  • A man with worsening COPD keeps his smoking secret at the hospital. He misses out on smoking cessation and pulmonary rehab programs.
  • A woman has surgery but doesn’t disclose her smoking. She develops a postoperative respiratory infection that could have been prevented.

In each case, lack of information leads the doctor to make decisions that directly result in increased morbidity for the patient. This demonstrates how dangerous half-truths can be when it comes to your health.

How to be honest with your doctor about smoking

Hopefully by now it’s clear why you should be fully truthful about your smoking with your doctor. Here are some tips to help you have an honest, productive conversation about your smoking:

  • Come prepared to each visit with details of your tobacco use – how much you smoke, what type, how long you’ve smoked, past quit attempts, etc.
  • If you’re uncomfortable talking about it, give your doctor a written smoking history you can review together.
  • Pick a doctor you trust in a non-judgmental environment so you can be open.
  • Don’t minimize your smoking – be accurate about pack years, cigarettes per day, etc.
  • It’s better to gradually increase the truth than suddenly admit you’ve lied for years.
  • Get a smoking cessation plan you feel ready for – you don’t have to completely quit today.
  • Let your doctor know you want help quitting when the time feels right for you.

Having an open and honest dialogue will allow you to get the help and medical care you need as a smoker. It may feel hard to talk about at first, but avoiding the topic only hurts you in the long run.

The takeaway

Lying to your doctor about smoking seems harmless on the surface. However, in reality it can negatively impact nearly every aspect of your health and medical care. Smoking is linked to numerous diseases, some of which can be life threatening if not caught early and managed properly. For your safety and wellbeing, you should accurately disclose your smoking status to your doctor at every visit. With honesty and trust, they can provide the care and resources you need for better health.