FYI – Google is NOT a doctor!

While researching symptoms on the internet may seem easy and convenient, it can be a cause for incorrect diagnosis and copious amounts of stress. Winola Peris sheds light on why being a cyberchondriac can be detrimental to one’s health – both physical and mental

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world health day

It had been a week since I had my first bout of chest pain. For seven days straight, every couple of hours, I would crunch up into a ball and will the pain away. Needless to say, I was terrified! A million possibilities of what could be wrong rushed through my head. I remember telling a close friend what was happening; she tried her best to coax me into seeing a doctor. I refused. She then did the one other thing I refused to do – she Googled my symptoms and came up with a few horrifying reasons as to why I was experiencing this agonising pain in my chest. In an instant I was told that I was suffering from Pleuritis – an inflammation in the lining of the lungs. I had been diagnosed without the input of an actual doctor.

Cyberchondria is the term used to describe the review of common symptomology online which results in assuming one’s condition is serious or terminal and self-diagnosis which is often incorrect. Being a cyberchondriac means excessively relying on information gathered from the internet to understand indications of illness and diagnosing the same without the expert advice of a doctor. Yes, health is a concern to each of us and reading about our symptoms on the internet is quite convenient. However, there is a huge possibility that we are causing more harm than good to ourselves by not consulting a doctor.

Back in the day, people used to visit a doctor the instant they sensed something wrong with their bodies, but today most of us tend to overlook our symptoms. This could be for a variety of reasons, the most common being that we don’t have time to be sick nor do we have the time for a medical check-up. Our schedules are tight and taking even as much as a minute off can put everything off-balance. At first, we push the pain or discomfort to the back of our minds. “Focus,” we tell ourselves, “The pain will go away in a couple of days. Nothing to worry about.” But it doesn’t and we get worried. Immediately we log on to our computers and within seconds we’re racking our brains, trying to understand all the medical jargon on screen. We shut the computer off. We experience no relief, just an escalation of fear and stress.

As many doctors and researchers have pointed out, checking one’s symptoms online cannot replace a full medical examination. Every illness has different effects on different people and the symptoms vary from one person to another. Without a careful examination of what one is experiencing and proper observation, it is quite impossible to derive at what the symptoms mean. Likewise, treatment also varies from person to person. Only after a doctor is able to estimate the exact seriousness of an illness will he be able to advise the most appropriate treatment required, taking into consideration one’s psychological and social situations, as well as medical history.

Cyberchondria can certainly have a negative impact on mental health. Constantly stressing about your health and weighing yourself down with information about how serious your illness is can be overwhelming. The worry can also seep into your daily life, and may be a hindrance in the smooth carrying-out of your day to day activities. The pressure that stems from uncertainty caused by cyberchondria may force you into spending more time researching your symptoms, seeking opinions from more than one website. This will eventually cause more health issues than there were in the first place.

So if you are prone to playing doctor to yourself, stop in your tracks. Take the time out to visit the doctor. Find out what is wrong and what can be done about it. Try not to rely on the internet when it comes to your health. There is a larger possibility that you don’t have an illness quite as complex or serious as the internet says you do.