When people go to see the doctor, they lie—quite a bit, as it turns out. According to one survey performed by the digital health platform Zocdoc, about 30 percent of men and 23 percent of women admit to telling white lies or omitting information during health exams.
Sometimes, they’re not intentionally dishonest; about a third of that group said that they withheld details because they couldn’t find the right opportunity or because the doctor didn’t ask the right questions. However, nearly half of Americans say that they’ve avoided talking about health issues due to embarrassment.
As it turns out, we’re not getting away with those lies. In several Reddit threads, medical professionals and baffled onlookers shared their stories of the most unbelievable lies they’ve heard from patients. We collected a few of the best responses, then edited them slightly for grammar and readability.
Doctors learn fairly quickly that patients often lie about pregnancies.
In most cases, however, they don’t make up an elaborate backstory.
“When I was an intern, I was doing my ER rotation, and a woman in her late 30s or so came in complaining of nausea and lower abdominal discomfort for the last few days,” wrote PhillipLlerenas. “I did the diligent history taking and, of course, asked her about the possibility of her being pregnant.”
“She lost her [mind] and went off on me,” he wrote. “[She] said she was a lesbian woman and had not been with a man for 10-plus years. Yelled at me to get my boss and let an ‘adult’ treat her.”
“I reported back to my attending and delineated the tests I wanted done. He was like, ‘I didn’t hear a plan for a pregnancy test,’ and I was like, ‘I don’t think that’s needed. She’s a lesbian and hasn’t been with a man in 10 years.’ My attending smiled and said, ‘Humor me.’”
Of course, she was pregnant.
“We went back to her room and there were two dudes mean-mugging one another, about to fight. She couldn’t even look me in the eye.”
Some of these stories induce a fair amount of rage.
“Does Munchausen by proxy stories count?” asked Pippin1505.
Munchausen syndrome by proxy is a mental condition in which a caretaker of a child exaggerates, fabricates, or sometimes induces symptoms in their children, and yes, it counts. Pippin1505’s father, a physician, noticed that a women kept coming back to get treatment for her daughter’s mysterious illness.
“The kid was grey,” they wrote. “Like, from head to toe, her skin had a grey/blue tint. [Her] mother swore it happened overnight, and nothing could explain it. Yeah, right.”
“My father recognized silver poisoning and had the kid tested. A few calls to his colleagues in the area confirmed that the woman had been touring doctors, disappearing every time argyrism was diagnosed. The mother was feeding silver powder to her kid for attention.”
When you’re not quite ready to leave the hospital, you don’t have many options.
“I had a lady in the hospital who was several days post-op and had met all criteria for discharge,” wrote boondock_saint. “This can be a somewhat difficult situation because you want to maintain a good relationship with your patient, but at the same time, you can’t inappropriately use hospital resources.”
“I told her that if there’s no medical necessity, insurance could deny payment for the extra night in the hospital, to which she said, ‘Oh, my health insurance agent was just up here, and he said I should stay another day.’”
“I just stared at her for a minute, since I have never seen an insurance representative in the hospital, and don’t even know if health insurance agents exist. She then admitted that she just made that up.”
At least she admitted it. Some patients are far more committed to their fake illnesses.
“I was working in the [emergency department],” wrote Lemonayyy. “A frequent flyer who’s known to fake illnesses gets wheeled into one of the rooms. This time, the patient is faking seizures. One of our ER docs pulls a nursing student over to the bedside and loudly explains that to test and see if it’s a real seizure, he’ll hold the patient’s arm up.”
The doctor explained that if the arm stayed in the air, the seizure was real. That, of course, was a complete lie.
“Sure enough, when the doctor elevates the patient’s arm in the air and releases it, the arm magically stays upright. The doc let the patient keep their arm up there for a good two minutes before finally calling them out.”
Unsurprisingly, some patients lie to get medication.
“[I’m] only a medical student, but a patient I took history from wanted Ativan for anxiety,” wrote Ipsenn. “She was telling me about how her panic attacks are so bad that she gets into car accidents with casualties every week.”
“I mean, a lot of patients will tell lies or play coy to get controlled substances, but she was the only one who admitted to multiple counts of vehicular manslaughter.”
“When I presented her case to my attending, she showed me a note in the [chart] from another doctor stating this was a regular tactic of hers, as well as an extensive online list of every [prescription] different doctors had given her for controlled substances.”
“She didn’t get an Ativan prescription that day.”
Others lie to get out of school.
This one isn’t from a doctor; it’s straight from a dishonest patient.
“I once informed my pediatrician that I had ‘contracted malaria from a mosquito bite’ and needed to miss math class to drink quinine, please,” wrote spiderqueendemon.
“I was not bright as an 8-year-old. Well—bright enough to learn about malaria out of a Little House on the Prairie book, but otherwise, nope. High intelligence, low wisdom: story of my life.”
“The pediatrician had my mom give me a glass of tonic water each morning before second grade. [He] said it had plenty of quinine and would keep me safe from malaria. As an unexpected consequence, I still love the stuff and drink it straight regularly.”
Some lies can easily endanger the life of the patient.
“[She said], ‘I don’t drink a lot of water,’” wrote Ravager135. “The patient was drinking 21 bottles of water a day and was making herself hyponatremic (low sodium in the blood). She was basically diluting herself. This can lead to lethargy, seizures, [and] death. The medical diagnosis is called psychogenic polydipsia.”
And if you’re thinking about lying about your eating habits…well, please don’t.
“A guy comes in to get his blood sugar checked,” wrote MAreaper88 “He is a known diabetic. The finger stick comes out to greater than detection limit. I draw the guy’s blood for an A1C and glucose.”
Those are typical tests for diabetics. For reference, the American Diabetes Association recommends a blood level between 70 and 130 milligrams/deciliter before meals and less than 180 after meals.
“His blood sugar comes out to 400-something,” MAreaper88 wrote. “So while we’re drawing the blood, the guy is telling us that, without question, his diet is spot on. He can’t imagine why this would happen.”
“He gets insulin and is released. I go to lunch and get gas on the way back to work. This guy is buying a soda and pizza sticks. That darned blood sugar and its mysterious workings.”
Other lies…well, don’t make much sense at all.
“A patient comes in with abdominal pain. ‘I think it’s my gallbladder,’ they say,” feeder_bands recalled. “Looking over their chart, I see their gallbladder was removed 20 years ago, so that is impossible. I mention this, to which they reply, ‘Yeah, but it grew back.’”
We can’t imagine what was going through that patient’s head. With this next story, we can imagine, but…we’d rather not.
“This 23-year-old came in with a … bottle jammed where the sun don’t shine,” wrote Mo-Smaointe. “[He] said he was being hazed, and this was part of it. I live in Ireland. We don’t even have fraternities.”
Yeah…enough said. We’re not quite sure whether this next story is more or less embarrassing.
“I’m a nurse, not a doctor,” wrote Internetdiscocat. “A guy came in to the ER with a bullet wound to the foot/ankle. The angle was really close to his leg and sort of pointing outwards. He denied that he knew how it happened and [said] that it must have been a stray bullet.”
“The dude totally accidentally shot himself in the foot. It happens to people who put their [weapons] in their waistbands [or] pants pockets. They don’t really know what they’re doing or don’t care about safety. It happens more often than people care to admit.”
We shouldn’t have to say this, but don’t lie to get faster treatment.
“I have several patients to see, [and I’m] informed that my priority patient is an elderly woman who came into the hospital with severe chest pain,” wrote one Reddit user. “[I hurry to the coronary care unit] to assess her, start the exam, ask her about her chest pain.”
Let’s just say that the woman’s response was less than ideal.
““Hm? Oh, I’m not having any more chest pain. But let me tell you about this toe here on my right foot. It’s just giving me fits. It started in October, and I thought it might be a change in the weather—’”
“[She] faked a heart attack so she could get admitted to the hospital because she wanted someone to look at her toe. She was as deaf as a stone, too.”
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only story in which a patient lied in order to see a physician right away.
“A pregnant patient came crying into the ER (which was loaded as usual) complaining about abdominal cramps and that she couldn’t feel her baby moving anymore,” wrote Valproic_acid.
“After a thorough check-up, we found nothing wrong. It turned out she was suffering from acute gastritis after eating a very spicy meal and wanted to be treated ASAP, so she lied about the cramps and the baby. It’s because of stuff like this that other actually ill people don’t get the proper attention.”
Dentists are used to little white lies.
They know that most of us don’t floss. However, this story’s a bit more extreme.
“I was waiting at the dentist’s—I arrived way too early—and a teen and his mom come in,” wrote waterloograd. “They talk to the dentist, and his mom says he has been grinding his teeth. He acts like she attacked him and was like, ‘I do not. I never grind my teeth!’”
“Then, 10 minutes later, the dentist comes back with the kid out to the waiting room and tells the mother there is severe grinding happening, and he is at risk of getting severe cavities since all the enamel is gone. The look on his face was priceless.”
“[The doctor] then said they would have to go upstairs to the orthodontist and get a mouth guard for sleeping, and that the kid will always have to be vigilant that he isn’t grinding for the rest of his life (or something like that).”
And in case you’re hoping for a similar story from the patient’s perspective, well, we’ve got you covered.
“I’m not a doctor, but a former patient,” feeln4u wrote.
“I had braces as a kid, and I had a bad habit of chewing on pen caps, which would occasionally result in one of my brackets coming uncemented from its tooth.”
“So this happened for the umpteenth time, and my orthodontist got ready to read me the riot act. But then I told him that, actually, I had been at a birthday party at a restaurant that had a dance floor in the back—which was true—and that I tripped and fell and hit my mouth on the wooden railing that lined the perimeter of the dance floor. It happened in such a way that I didn’t hurt myself, I just knocked a bracket loose—which was absolutely a lie.”
“And he was like, ‘So you fell into a wooden rail, and you hit your mouth into it, full force, but you didn’t lose a tooth, or bust your lip, or anything else? Is that what actually happened?’”
“And then I looked at the floor and shook my head no.”
We can feel the humiliation from here.
Mental health professionals also deal with plenty of dishonesty.
LustfulGumby is a therapist and says that people lie constantly—then get frustrated when they don’t make any progress in their therapy.
“They will then disclose some incredibly crucial piece of information—a serious trauma, severe symptoms—that completely change how they need to be treated,” they wrote. “Telling your mental health care provider you were locked in a basement and were not allowed human contact from ages 8 to 11, for example, [or revealing] that you are far more than a ‘little bit anxious’ is pretty damn significant.”
“It’s usually pretty clear when something doesn’t add up, but without somewhat accurate reporting, it makes creating effective treatment plans nearly impossible. Just be honest. I cannot treat omissions and lies.”
“To clarify, this isn’t about people [who don’t feel] comfortable at session one or even session 17. It’s about clients in long-term therapy who get angry that they make no progress because they have completely omitted very significant information that would have a large impact on their health. No one expects anyone to come in at an intake and word-vomit [about] what gives them PTSD.”
If you’re thinking about lying to push your case forward, think again.
“I did some work in a few MRI labs at one point,” wrote Combicon. “We had patients say they don’t have anything metallic/tattoos/whatever on them, as they know that if they say they do, they won’t get scanned. They’ve even been told this.”
“There’s a reason for this. Metallic (or, rather, magnetic) things will stick to MRI machines like [crazy]. It’s irritating and expensive to get things unstuck, and possibly life threatening to the patient, as it’s pulled off or out of them.”
That’s exactly as violent as it sounds. The good news: Physicians thoroughly scan patients for metal items before performing MRI exams—they don’t trust that the patient’s telling the truth. After reading some of these stories, we understand why.
Some lies make sense—but that doesn’t make them defensible.
“I work for a medical device company,” wrote Notmiefault. “We sell spine implants (the rods and screws used to hold vertebrae together).”
“An irate patient tried to sue us after one of the screws in his back broke, which resulted in him needing another surgery. He claimed it broke while he slept.”
“I don’t care how restless a sleeper you are, there is no possible way these screws could break that easily. Each screw can easily support your entire body weight and then some, and I’ve got the FEA analysis to prove it. They are tested for five million cycles of loading to make sure they can handle any amount of fatigue, as well.”
“Turned out, he actually broke it playing football on Thanksgiving. Two months after major spine surgery.”
Lying about your behavior doesn’t really pay off, but it can save you from some embarrassing situations.
“I’m not a doctor, but I work the front desk at an ER,” wrote Bob4Fettuccine. “I used to be an EMT as well. Every patient who checks in for being assaulted was ‘jumped randomly by strangers for no reason.’ These people are almost always [jerks].”
“There was one guy a few years ago who admitted that he was running his mouth. Everyone else was totally not asking for it in any way.”
Fair warning: This last story, another instance of Munchausen by proxy, is pretty awful.
“We had a mother come in and insist that her child had Silver-Russell syndrome,” wrote a Reddit user whose account has since been deleted. “You can go read about it. It’s not that easy to fake, as it’s a bunch of metabolic conditions mixed with congenital abnormalities.”
“The kid was small, but not that small (around 6th percentile). He didn’t weight much (5th percentile). All of this, along with a right arm length two centimeters [longer] than the left side, were borderline criteria for Silver-Russell. We did genetic testing, which came back negative, but 30 percent of cases are negative.”
“So the deciding factor was one of the ‘soft’ criteria of hypoglycemia. Once she heard about this—she printed out 30-40 articles on the disease—she came back with the kid in a coma. But when the kid was in the hospital, he was never hypoglycemic. He went home and came back in a coma a few weeks later. Again, as soon as he was eating normally at the hospital, he was never hypoglycemic.”
“She starved her child into comas repeatedly for the diagnosis of Silver-Russell. …By the way, she was in a wheelchair when at the hospital. Once, I had enough of her [lies], so I walked into the room after only knocking once. She was walking around normally and jumped into the wheelchair as soon as she saw me.”
“I believe it was for money, since in Canada/Quebec, you get money when your child has a genetic disability.”