updated 6/11/2008 7:37:16 AM ET 2008-06-11T11:37:16

The Institute of Medicine did a study and found that 90 million Americans don't understand what their doctors are telling them. So we asked Mehmet Oz, MD, professor and vice chairman of surgery at New York–Presbyterian/Columbia University and author of "You: Staying Young," for some help deciphering the common phrases doctors use in the examination room.

  1. Don't miss these Health stories
    1. Splash News
      More women opting for preventive mastectomy - but should they be?

      Rates of women who are opting for preventive mastectomies, such as Angeline Jolie, have increased by an estimated 50 percent in recent years, experts say. But many doctors are puzzled because the operation doesn't carry a 100 percent guarantee, it's major surgery -- and women have other options, from a once-a-day pill to careful monitoring.

    2. Larry Page's damaged vocal cords: Treatment comes with trade-offs
    3. Report questioning salt guidelines riles heart experts
    4. CDC: 2012 was deadliest year for West Nile in US
    5. What stresses moms most? Themselves, survey says

1. If your doctor says: "You might want to consider taking a stress test."

What he means is: "You might be a ticking time bomb."

Your response should be: "Is this routine or is something in my profile worrying you?" A stress test is a risk stratification test. "It answers the question, 'When you're pushed as hard as you can be pushed, are you a ticking time bomb?' " says Dr. Oz. Your ability to exercise is the best predictor of how well you're aging.

2. If your doctor says: "You could stand to lose a little weight."

What he means is: "If you don't lose that gut, you'll end up with diabetes."

Your response should be: "Do I have high blood pressure, prediabetes, or high cholesterol?" For all three conditions, the first line of defense is weight loss. "Don't wait for your doctor to tell you to lose weight," says Dr. Oz. Measure yourself around your waist at belly-button level. If the number is more than half your height, you're overweight.

3. If your doctor says: "We have several options."

What he means is:"We have no good options."

Your response should be: "What are the problems with each option?" If your doctor had a perfect option, he wouldn't offer the others, says Dr. Oz. 

4. If your doctor says: "I would like to run some more tests."

What he means is:"I'm stalling for time because I have no idea what's wrong with you."

Your response should be: "What diagnosis are you looking for with these tests?" Like everybody else, physicians go through illogical moments. Your job is to catch them. "Your doctor should be able to give you a flowchart explaining where each test result will lead him next," says Dr. Oz. If the logic flow of the tests doesn't make sense to you, tell him so.

5. If your doctor says: "If it doesn't clear up in a week, come back in."

What he means is: "I'm giving you a placebo. It might work or it might not."

Your response should be: "What are the worst-case scenarios?" If a doctor is interested in seeing you in a week, he's triaging problems. "Plus," says Dr. Oz, "it gives him a chance to experiment, since no one therapy works on everyone."

6. What your doctor will rarely say: "You need a second opinion."

What you should be thinking: "Second opinions change a diagnosis and treatment a third of the time. Why isn't he recommending one?"

Your response should be: "If I went to another high-quality doctor like you, what's another legitimate approach he could offer me?" Any good physician should be able to offer you a plan B, says Dr. Oz.

Copyright© 2012 Rodale Inc.All rights reserved. No reproduction, transmission or display is permitted without the written permissions of Rodale Inc.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments