The Internet is loaded with useful information about every single aspect of our lives. From cooking recipes and DIY crafts to financial and medical advice, all topics are open for exploration. While a failed roast recipe may not harm you, a misdiagnosis can compromise your health and –in the worst case scenario– kill you.
There is nothing wrong with looking for medical information online. However, making a diagnosis is much more complicated than ticking points on a symptoms checklist. Your medical history needs to be taken into consideration, as well as environmental factors and living conditions. For example, if you live in a house infested by mold, you may experience symptoms similar to those of the common flu. In this case, treating the symptoms will obviously not address the cause of the problem. Furthermore, blood tests and thorough physical examination may be necessary in order to confirm or rule out a diagnosis.
The situation gets even messier when your symptoms fit multiple diagnoses. Choosing among them is as arbitrary as flipping a coin without professional help. Ever so often, self-diagnosed patients decide to try various treatments –traditional or alternative– to see if any of them provides a cure. This is a dangerous approach, as it may not only leave the original condition untreated, but cause other health problems as well. Drug side-effects and unwanted interactions add bonus points to making things worse.
Another common issue with online diagnoses is that they often fail to identify the actual source of the problem. There are several psychological conditions that the brain chooses to translate into physical symptoms. A common example is intense stress that can cause headaches, sleep deprivation, fatigue, and many more. Therefore, a psychological cause may be misinterpreted as physical, and vice versa. Moreover, it is possible that you suffer from two or more different conditions simultaneously, whose symptoms are not directly related to one another. This is also known as co-morbidity, and most online symptom-checkers fail to detect it.
Being stuck with the wrong diagnosis can lead you to either overestimate or undervalue the severity of your health problems. Without proper assessment from a healthcare professional, you could end up ignoring a serious health risk, or obsessing over a minor illness. This obsession, in particular, can skew your perspective and make you “see” symptoms that are not there. Finally, self-diagnosed patients who are convinced that their diagnosis is correct may be tempted to question –and often reject– their doctor’s findings, thus not receiving proper treatment for their actual condition.
Getting informed about health issues from reliable sources on the Internet is a great thing. However, diagnoses should be left for professionals to make. If you are concerned about your health, leave excuses –such as lack of time or money– aside and book an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.