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Don't Google Diseases. Ever.

Illustration for article titled Dont Google Diseases. Ever.

A new survey confirms a bit of wisdom some of us had to learn the hard way: don't try to diagnose your illnesses over the Internet. You'll probably just give yourself a heart attack.


According to the Daily Mail, a study by Engage Mutual found that 60% of respondents consulted the Internet rather than a doctor when they felt sick. And for many of them, that turned out to be a really bad idea — nearly half ended up thinking they were deathly ill. One in five became convinced they were having a heart attack, while 28% of those with abdominal pain thought they had appendicitis (if my experience is any guide, appendicitis also brings with it uncontrollable sweating and a feeling of impending death, but maybe that was just me). Other popular failments included brain tumors, lung disease, and arthritis. Says a spokeswoman for Engage Mutual,

While the internet can be a great information resource, it is always best to see a doctor when ill. Not only can a medical professional put your mind at rest, they can also check out all the symptoms and tell you what the matter really is.


She's right — one of the most important lessons I've learned in my online life is that if you're sick, or anxious, or anxious about being sick, the Internet is only going to make things worse. In my hypochondriac early twenties, I routinely diagnosed yeast confections as cancer, and even delayed getting normal, necessary treatment because I was convinced I was dying and what was the point anyway. I slowly learned my lesson and quit typing my worst medical fears into Google, but I still sometimes turned to the Web for advice on more common ailments. Mistake. Got a UTI? You should drink cranberry juice, not drink cranberry juice, eat yogurt, avoid dairy, take antibiotics, but be aware that the antibiotics will interact with your birth control, except when they won't, but it doesn't matter because you shouldn't have sex for three days/a week/two months/the rest of your life because what if you give the UTI to your partner/push it up into your brain/get hysteria/go to hell? Basically there's so much conflicting information on the Internet that even a minor illness can become a complex psychodrama of contradictory recommendations.

I have no doubt that there are some people who can simply visit a reputable site like, get reassurance or a few questions to ask their doctors, and then move on without tumbling down a rabbit hole of anxiety and low-res photographs of lesions. But those people are probably all healthy anyway, because they spend their free time outdoors or relaxing with their families, rather than sitting in front of the computer stoking their fears of mortality while growing ever more disconnected from actual human life. Fuckers.

'Cyberchondriac' Nation: Millions Of Britons Worry Themselves Sick After Misdiagnosing Symptoms On Google [Daily Mail]

Image via Blaj Gabriel/

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I have to disagree in some cases . Not everyone is a hypochondriac and sometimes research is constructive. Doctors, even my internist whom I love dearly, generally has 10-15 minutes to spend with me in the office. By coming armed with a little info, I can make that time count.

Last visit: I looked up my symptoms first. I knew there were three likely diagnoses, all of which required medical attention, so I made an appt. While I was waiting, I tried a homeopathic treatment that helped ease discomfort.

During the appt, I gave her a quick list of the most relevant symptoms i was experiencing, the duration of each, and also the symptoms I wasn't experiencing, to speed up the Q&A. Because we got through that part quickly, she was able to take a culture, run it under the microscope, and congratulate me for guessing the right strain of bacteria. Most doctors would have heard my symptoms, written a script for the most common antibiotic, and walked out. And they would have been wrong. This way, she could run a full test and tailor the antibiotic so it worked but was least likely to create a superbug.

For those of us with chronic health issues, learning how to make the most of a doc's appointment is crucial. I'm more likely to get the right diagnosis. If I want a particular test that isn't routine, I can ask if my insurance covers it. I can ask questions about possible side effects or interactions with drugs I'm taking.

I know there's a ton of misinformation on the net. But .gov and .edu sites are fairly reliable and can help you understand your body, something that I consider incredibly empowering.