The Internet is the hypochondriac’s dream. Ten minutes and a headache can convince you that you’re dying – but you’re not. There’s a ton of good information out there, but you have to use it judiciously – and leave the actual diagnosing to an actual doctor.
The Internet is the world’s greatest way of disseminating information. That said, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. In this case specifically, the wealth of medical information available on the internet has spawned “cyberchondria” – the tendency to look up your headache and diagnose yourself with a brain tumor. Or to post a vague health complaint on a forum and find yourself inundated with dozens of different “diagnoses” from not-doctors.
Yes, it’s wonderful that there are reliable medical resources on the web. But it is not wonderful to diagnose yourself via these resources, then argue with your doctor’s diagnosis, which was made via examination, testing, and, you know, actual medical knowledge.
Don’t be a cyberchondriac. Here’s how:
Seek Information, Not a Diagnosis
If you are having weird health issues, go ahead and look them up on authentic websites. You can turn toward sites like MayoClinic, WebMD, MedlinePlus and the National Institutes of Health.
Do not go into this expecting to find the final answer to your issue – at best, it may help clarify what’s going on and connect your current symptoms to other things you may not have thought of. This can facilitate a better conversation with a doctor in real life.
When you land on a page about your symptoms, read the “Causes” critically. Don’t ignore possible causes like caffeine, insufficient sleep and acidic foods and immediately jump on TUMOR! OMG!! Because it’s probably not. The reason these reputable sites are reputable is because they are thorough – they list all the possible causes. Now if only they would list the actual probability of each cause…
Don’t Argue With Your Doctor
Once you’ve done your research, go see your doctor. You could always skip the research part and just make the appointment, but the fact that you’re reading this speaks to the fact that you won’t. So print off your checklists and whatever page has convinced you that you have multiple organ failure because this blister won’t go away. Show them to your doctor, describe your symptoms, and submit to the testing.
When the results come back and show that you just need better shoes, take the doctor’s word for it. She has many years of training and experience behind her, she is backed up by modern technology, and that combination doesn’t miss things that are going to kill you today. If you still have nagging doubts, seek a second opinion. From a doctor, not a forum.
Don’t Attempt to Treat Yourself
This one has a caveat – if your symptoms are minor, like the flu or seasonal allergies, feel free to look up some remedies. Drugs.com is a reputable resource that includes all warnings, contraindications and possible interactions. But if you have symptoms that have not yet been diagnosed, don’t do the guesswork yourself. See the doctor.
The availability of prescription drugs from online pharmacies and the popularity of “all natural” remedies is tempting – just cut out the middleman and get right to the treatment! Except ‘no’, don’t. Because everything you put inside you interacts with everything else. Sometimes well, sometimes badly, most of the time neutrally. But that’s why it takes a doctor to decide what treatment is best for you – it’s not a guessing game. You want the most effective, least harmful treatment, and the chances that the one you arbitrarily pick from a list will be the correct one are slim.
Be Your Own Advocate, Not Your Own Doctor
Once your doctor has given you an official diagnosis, you may return to the Internet. Look it up, see what it’s all about. If it’s a chronic condition, there’s probably a foundation with an entire website that can offer coping and lifestyle tips. You might find some alternative treatments and dietary modifications to discuss with your doctor. You might find the stories of other people who have been through it so you know what to expect.
This situation is what the reputable medical information on the Internet is for. It’s for finding out more about your condition, not guessing which condition you have. Knowledge is power – use it for good.