Before you search your symptoms, beware of cyberchondria

You wake up in the middle of the night to a throbbing headache. You panic but are not able to shake the feeling that something serious is happening, so you open your laptop and search for ways to self-diagnose your symptoms. “My head hurts and I’m sweating,” you think to yourself, “I must have an anxiety disorder.” You then come across links in your search, confirming your prediction. “Great, now I need expensive medication, too! What else could go wrong?”

Your first misstep may be trusting what you see online. Before you jump to any conclusions, consult your physician about how you feel and how your symptoms affect your daily routine. Your doctor knows you as well as, if not better than, you know yourself. Your doctor also has the knowledge and experience to properly diagnose you. Your doctor will not belittle your concerns and is able to provide you with an unbiased perspective of what might be bothering you.

In other words, help your doctor help you. You may not want to bring in a stack of printouts to your physician and expect them to take all of your online findings seriously. What you can do, is use your online research to narrow your doctor’s focus, this can help them diagnose you more quickly and ease your stress.

The Internet has enabled more people to diagnose themselves without the expertise of a medical professional, the information you find may fail to properly determine the severity of your symptoms. Hypochondria has spun into a new form, called “cyberchondria,”  i.e., the Internet-caused version of hypochondria. Most people own a computer or smartphone, so a self-diagnosis is merely a click away. With that in mind, beware of an incorrect diagnosis. Emotions like fear and anxiety can exaggerate your symptoms and make your doctor’s job more difficult.

There are several well-respected medical sources online, including the Mayo Clinic, Health Central and WebMD. Any site ending in .org or .gov is a reputable source, as well. If these sources do not have the answers, they can provide links to more helpful resources. Despite these trustworthy and timely sites, a habit to avoid is using an online, self-diagnosis, instead of an actual doctors’ visit. Your health is important to you and your family, putting it in the hands of unreliable Internet source can be risky, especially for long periods of time.

The dangers of self-diagnosing are generally not worth the potential benefits to your well-being. Many .com and .net sites are not  very dependable. Identifying symptoms may be fine, but avoid taking the next step without the guidance of a professional. Some doctors and hospitals are embracing technology and recognize the convenience, but be cautious of what you read online and always seek the advice of your doctor. It can make all the difference.


Photo Credit: Rakesh Pherwani

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