The Danger in Googling Your Symptoms

Do you visit Dr. Google more than you do your MD? You’re not alone. In the past year, about 35 percent of Americans have gone online to diagnose themselves or other, according to a new survey from The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

While 41 percent of survey respondents said that a medical professional confirmed their self-diagnoses, more than one in three never followed up with a clinician for a second opinion. And another 18 percent learned their self-diagnoses were wrong after visiting a professional, according to the survey of more than 3,000 U.S. adults. While study authors say the purpose of the survey was to determine who looks for health information online, medical experts are concerned what the findings mean for patients’ mental health.

“Every person is about four websites away from deciding they have cancer and are going to die,” says Rahul K. Khare, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “There is just so much bad information on the Internet.”

While searching to see if your sniffles match the symptoms of the cold or of the flu, wandering the web can fuel a sort of Internet-enabled hypochondria, dubbed “cyberchondria.” Unfounded anxieties over common health symptoms are becoming increasingly common as more people visit the Internet instead of the doctor, says Khare, who has treated patients who—after experiencing common symptoms such as a runny nose, sore throat, and enlarged lymph nodes—Google their symptoms and convince themselves they have cancer. One patient even reached a self-diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, he says.

Still compelled to log on? Follow Khare’s tips for safe self-diagnosing:

Search Trusted Websites
Any quack with an Internet connection can build a website. Make sure the sites you visit for health advice are reputable and vetted by medical experts.  Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic, and The CDC all have legit and easy-to-find information for self-diagnosers, he says.

Don’t Peruse for Pleasure
Sure, medical pages about obscure fungal infections can feed a sort of morbid curiosity, but when it comes to self-diagnosing, keep your searches targeted and don’t wander, Khare says. Only research the symptoms that you actually have and log off as soon as you find your answer.

Double Check Your Diagnosis
“The last thing people should do is worry for no reason,” Khare says. If online information has you nervous, visit your doc immediately. Share the diagnosis you found online and don’t leave until your concerns are addressed, he advises.

source; – by K. Aleisha Fetters

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