We all do it. Either our children have some nagging health issue in the middle of the night that gives us a feeling of unrest, or we decide that it’s finally time to look up the reasons why you might have a small bump on your neck. Next thing you know, you are caught up in an overload of information from reputable sites such as Web MD or Mayo Clinic – and you begin thinking that you (or your child) have cancer. One search leads to another search and suddenly you are inundated with ‘expert’ advice – tips, hints, herbal remedies, and cures plus real life accounts of people who have had or are living with some disease you have never heard of it. And yep, all signs point to yes – which means that you become infested with the belief that you are going to die.
And since your manic search for answers to your health problems have led you to symptom checkers and diagnosis tools you feel confident that you know what’s wrong with you. All this because you have a headache. Or because your daughter has a stomach virus. Or because you have a mole that has changed color. You get the point. Next thing you know all the symptoms that you have read about begin to appear one at a time, slowly but surely over time as the placebo effect takes control. This is just ONE reason that self-diagnosing health problems via the internet is not always a good idea.
According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project 8 out of every 10 people go to the internet to try and self diagnose themselves when they are experiencing poor health. And while many reputable sites such as Web MD and Mayo Clinic strive to provide online visitors with up to date and accurate information and wellness tools – they are not designed to replace the advice and knowledge of a doctor. Unfortunately, however – perhaps due to financial difficulties or fear, people are replacing their health care with self health care based on knowledge they are receiving online. Which in many cases can be dangerouos! Additionally, while online diagnosis tools provide insight, they are often very wrong. Yet many people begin ordering up herbal remedies or so called cures they find online for ailments that they don’t really have – which leads to more health problems.
This new age problem of self-diagnosing based on internet information has been dubbed Cyberchondria by health experts. And cyberchondira can make you believe or feel like you have a brain tumor when the reality is that you have sinus infection. The problem is that that stress involved with believing you have an ailment that you don’t have, is quite contrary to overall wellbeing, and can actually make you sick in the long run.
Arthur Basky, a professor of psychology at the University of Harvard also believes that while most people go online seeking some sort of relief from their worries, they end up powering down the computer feeling more worried, more anxious and more frenzied than they were when they first looked up the information. And worse, while they might have an idea or two of what is causing their health problem, or may be led accurately in one direction or another – the truth is that most health problems cannot be diagnosed without some sort of advanced testing of the human body.
It is also important to realize as a consumer of information – that with online searches into medical conditions being so popular, that online advertisers are capitalizing monetarily on your fears. If you watch the average television commercial advertising health products, or pay attention to the ads you see online, you will notice that there is a trend amongst these companies to ‘brand health conditions,’ and make fairly average complaints of ailments like constipation, headaches, nausea, back ache, or even tooth problems on serious medial conditions such as cancer. So suddenly, you are frightened like a deer in the headlights because an antacid commercial said, “If conditions persist you may have a more serious condition.”
Still, there is a balance that can be struck between online information and true medical care. Doctors believe that looking things up online and making notes of key questions you want to ask your doctor makes you a better patient. Additionally, if people take the time to research their problems online, and then come to their appointments with a laundry list of ghost illnesses that they believe they have, the doctor can help to rule many things out with simple blood work or routine testing. And, unlike online information where it is difficult to ask a question – you can actually sit down and talk to your doctor about your worries and fears. Doctors believe that when people come clean with their health concerns from an educated standpoint – not only are they more willing to rectify problems, but also health problems can be found more quickly and accurately with minimal testing. So for the doctor and patient, it is a win – win situation.
The plethora of health information available online is not a bad thing. In order to make sure that you don’t become a victim of cyberchondria (the online version of hypochondria) it is very important to keep your search localized to reputable websites. Try to stay out of certain forums, unless you have been medically diagnosed with a disorder or health problem. Additionally, write down your worries, and keep track of conditions so that when you do see your doctor you will be an informed patient and make the most of your time with the doctor in office. Whatever you do, do not use information (which is often misinformation) found online as a replacement for true doctors care and advice. If you have a concern that brings you to the computer, whether it is about you – or a loved one, then chances are you need to use your phone and schedule an appointment. And know when to say when. If you are getting nervous or upset because of things you are reading online, its time to shut down the computer so you don’t actually make yourself sick with worry and stress.