Friday, June 20, 2014

Paging Dr. Google...

When you or a family member becomes ill, do you Google their symptoms? Do you dig deeper and deeper until you've scared yourself half to death and now you feel that you've gotten some incurable illness?

According to the Pew Research Internet Project, over half of Internet users are looking for information on a disease, medical problem, medical treatments, or medical procedures. The article also lists the most commonly searched illnesses (as per WebMD) as:

  • Shingles
  • Gallbladder
  • Gout
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Lupus
  • Skin Problems
  • Allergies
  • Heart Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Sleep Disorders

and the most commonly searched treatments as:

  • Pain relievers
  • Anti-depressants
  • High blood pressure medication
  • Corticosteroids
  • Hysterectomy
  • Diabetes medication
  • ADHD medication
  • Antibiotics
  • Colonoscopy
  • Cholesterol-lowering medication


While the Internet has been a tremendous help for people who want to learn more about an illness or to connect with others who have the same issues, it also has given birth to a condition called cyberchondria. It's so real that there's even a Wikipedia page on it. ;-) But as much as some may laugh about cyberchondria, it can be a serious problem. Serious enough that people who have been to see a doctor, even getting a second opinion, may not be satisfied and may continue to seek medical help even though they get the same responses.

While most people don't fall into the extreme of cyberchondria, many do end up worrying needlessly because the symptoms of a simple stomach bug may be seen as stomach cancer. Itching skin may be seen as something wrong with the liver. A swollen lymph gland may be seen as lymphoma, a type of cancer. This isn't too different from the days when families discussed illnesses and someone in the family would say that your symptoms sounded just like their friend's cousin's brother-in-law's best friend's sister's illness, which turned out to be the plague. Except with the Internet, the information is relayed much more quickly.

If you are looking for health information, it's essential that you look at reputable sites - not ones that are trying to sell you miracle cures. I wrote a post about it several years ago, but the information is still valid: How to search for health info on the Internet.

So, look for information, but don't rely on what you read. Dr. Google doesn't have a medical degree. Yet.

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