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All in Your Head: Should You Let the Internet Diagnose You?

Headaches that are too sharp, too long, too concentrated make my head spin (add vertigo to the list). Maybe it's my first migraine? Or very first tumor? It could be anything. Anything! My acute and impending demise sends me straight to my safe place, the Internet, to disprove whatever disease I've concocted. Only sometimes, it doesn't quiet my fears. It makes them louder.

Cyberchondria sounds like a faddy, fake word for people who aren't ready to call themselves hypochondriacs, but it's actually a very real phenomena. People, including web-savvy Microsoft employees who were surveyed, tend to favor search engines over health sites like WebMD, and they search for symptoms not diseases. To find out why this can make matters worse,


A search for symptoms can return a host of results, most for rare and serious conditions. Since "stay away from the Internet" has proved to be useless advice, researchers are now pushing search engines like Google and Microsoft to take a diagnostic approach to health search. Users would enter risk factors like age, sex, weight, etc., in addition to symptoms. Results would display in the order of what's most likely rather than what's most popular or linked (or however Google is doing it these days).

So this all sounds very pragmatic and techy and Web 3.0, but I don't know that I want it. Because the best way to calm Internet disease-digging fears is to disregard its source — the Internet. What happens when that's no longer an excuse? Guess I'll have to go the doctor!


Join The Conversation
kcwebgirl kcwebgirl 8 years
i always diagnosis myself by going online when i'm sick. and if it's a persistent thing or bad enough i head to the doctor. i'm usually right! once i got a nasty spider bite and diagnosed it myself. my doctor insisted it was staph and required me to test. i was right. it was a spider bite. this based on my internet search! i'm usually right. but i like going to the doctor. good balance
cloroxcowgirl cloroxcowgirl 8 years
To add to my last comment - so many people are without health insurance and cannot afford to see a dr for every little ache and pain. ER's are overcrowded because of this. What else are people supposed to do but try and treat themselves? Its all a part of the larger problem of a broken health care system.
cloroxcowgirl cloroxcowgirl 8 years
I don't think there's anything wrong with using WebMD for minor problems, but if there's any chance that something serious is wrong always go to the dr or er right away.
CaterpillarGirl CaterpillarGirl 8 years
Mandee, its very dangerous to self diagnose. IF you cannot afford insurance, go to your local health department, which also has gynocologist, and if you havent been seen in 5 years for a regular pap ....please go.
bluesarahlou bluesarahlou 8 years
I definitely agree with you on that Kranky.
kranky kranky 8 years
dootsie- It's possible that you had surgery for no good reason. Just because a doctor is willing to perform a procedure doesn't mean you necessarily need it.
dootsie dootsie 8 years
I'm easily worried, but at the same time, it's the only way I've been able to get myself treated a lot of the time. I had a chronic sore throat for five years with abscesses on my tonsils. I visited different doctors (often the same doctors more than once) at least twenty times. Nothing. Everyone just had no idea. I went on WebMD, looked up tonsillitis. TONSILLITIS. My doctor couldn't recognize tonsillitis? I went in with the print-out from WebMD and within the hour I had an appointment with an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor to have my tonsils taken out.
bluesarahlou bluesarahlou 8 years
"my dr. actually told me that she gets really annoyed by her patients abusing web md and sites like it because it makes it harder for her to use her own skills of diagnosis." Great point, YY. Doctors are given the tools to help diagnose your problems. It doesn't help when you've convinced yourself you have a tumor, when in reality you have an ingrown hair.
ElizabethRae ElizabethRae 8 years
I have to say, the internet can be a big help. I had doctors giving me total BS reasons for something. It sounded too improbable so I Googled it. Lo and behold, hundreds of other people had the SAME problems and went to doctors who told them the SAME (wrong) thing. If I hadn't googled my symptoms I would have had no idea what was wrong. Everyone in the forums said the same thing: they were frustrated that doctors had been wrong for so long and incredibly relieved to finally know what was ailing them. Doctors don't know everything. On the other hand, I had a doc do the same thing TidalWave mentioned. He diagnosed a knee problem I had and said, here's the name of it, look it up on the internet. I never understood exactly what was wrong until I went to a different orthopedist a few years later and he actually took the time to show me what was wrong.
MandeeLei MandeeLei 8 years
I use WebMD to help me make the decision of whether or not to see a doctor. I rarely get sick so when I do I tend to freak out a bit and usually it is over something as simple as a cold. If my symptoms progress and nothing seems to be helping then of course seeing a doctor is the obvious choice. I don't have insurance and it can be expensive for me to go to the doctor so I do try to treat myself first. I haven't been to the doctor for an illness (I have been for regular check ups) since I was 16 years old and am now 21.
kranky kranky 8 years
"My friend was asking her gyno about birthcontrol and the doctor said to her, "Just go look it up online!"" Your friend needs to find a new physician after reporting the doctor to the state medical licensing office.
kranky kranky 8 years
I believe this tool is dangerous, and probably adds an undue burden on general practitioners. At one point or another, everyone gets concerned about their health, and things like WebMD only encourages harmful behavior. It is complete hubris for patients to think that they know more than doctors based on what they read on the internet, and it is a waste of the doctors' time to calm the fears of a patient who has convinced themselves they have an ailment due to what they read on the internet (and GPs are rapidly going the way of nurses in this country - there aren't enough of them to go around). You know when you are sick enough to go to a doctor and chances are - if you are really sick (from strep throat to lung cancer), it won't matter if you have self-diagnosed - you still need to see a health professional to get treated. For the insured, most insurance companies provide 24 hours lines were you can call and speak with a registered nurse if you have any questions. I HIGHLY recommend taking advantage of that service if it is available to you rather than doing your own research. Yes doctors and other health professionals are human and make mistakes. But they are right WAY more often than they are wrong, and you should give them the benefit of the doubt and learn to trust them.
TidalWave TidalWave 8 years
My friend was asking her gyno about birthcontrol and the doctor said to her, "Just go look it up online!"
yesteryear yesteryear 8 years
ive had to completely stop using these websites because i was driving myself crazy. my dr. actually told me that she gets really annoyed by her patients abusing web md and sites like it because it makes it harder for her to use her own skills of diagnosis. i think the only thing these sites are good for is to research a condition AFTER you've been diagnosed and to find people who might also be suffering from the same thing. but having a computer figure out what you have simply by naming your symptoms is really not a good idea - unless its the computer from star trek the next generation, in which case, it can diagnose your medical condition AND make you an ice cream sunday - when are we going to get those kind of computers?
CaterpillarGirl CaterpillarGirl 8 years
I have never tried to diagnose a problem healthwise on the internet, i pay my 15 bucks and go see my physician. I do however research Medication information.
Shadowdamage Shadowdamage 8 years
When I want to know something about a condition, or research EVERY option, the internet is great. I would never, however, use it to make a final determination. That being said, doctors are not gods, nor are the infallible, and I like to feel I'm an educated patient. In the end, the person that makes the determination is me...the determination whether or not to go to the doctor, whether or not to listen to what he says. The era of "trusting doctors and hospitals without a second thought" ended for me a long time ago, and trusting my own body and listening to its signals is now an active part of any medical conversation I will have. Both my mom and I have changed doctors in the past because we found the one we had didn't care to understand more than he "already knew" and to our disservice refused to listen. There are plenty of people on the net that have armed themselves with information their doctors were not aware of, and while it may annoy said doctors, on the other hand it helped a lot of us find physicians with a sharper focus on the subject of our concern, and a more sympatico viewpoint. Internet: great for information, viewpoints, alternatives, but don't let something as passive and distant as that make your judgement FOR you.
margokhal margokhal 8 years
I use WebMD all the time, because I do have situations that just don't make sense fairly often. I've worked in hospitals and done a lot of biology in schooling, which helps temper the "cyberchondria" that sometimes results. And it's better that you at least know exactly what your symptoms are and can describe them to a doctor. Doctors aren't gods, they're people like the rest of us; they just match your symptoms to a most likely condition - like a more informed WebMD, but without all the apocalyptic diagnoses. I know a lot of people in med school right now, and a lot of them i wouldn't trust to diagnose anyone! @_@
UnDave35 UnDave35 8 years
I've never been to a medical website to diagnose a problem. IMO, if I feel lousy enough that I need to look up what I have, I'm lousy enough to go to the doctor, and give him a $100 to tell me I'm a hypochondriac... ;)
momma-tikita momma-tikita 8 years
:true: hypno! I usually look up anything on WebMD before my appointment with the doctor. Just in case I know what the problem is Im informed so I dont feel lost at the doc's office!
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 8 years
Of course not, when it comes to medical issues it has been said time and time again by the medical community use the Internet but use it as a resource aid not a determiner. Doesn't mean that the Internet can't be right just means you should be sharing the information your acting upon with a medical professional because there are so many sights out there and some are very patient friendly and some aren't' which is why it is better to be safe than sorry.
StolzeMama StolzeMama 8 years
I search web md all the time. In there, you put all of your symptoms and it tells you what it most likely is. But I use it as a peace of mind kind of thing. Like when I should take my baby to the dr for a fever or a sore throat. And I also know what questions to ask my doctor when I go. I know I drive my doctor crazy. He even tells me he hates it. But I feel better knowing that I cover all bases because doctors do miss things.
bleached bleached 8 years
Oops... sorry. Pressed post twice by mistake
bleached bleached 8 years
So dangerous. Doctors go to school for years to be able to diagnose illnesses. It should be left up to them.
momma-tikita momma-tikita 8 years
Knowing that I'm a Cyberchondria gives me a headache...
kia kia 8 years
A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.
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