When you find yourself under the weather or with a massive headache, it’s easy to find the possible causes for your symptoms through a Google search. Often, you’ll see an article perfectly describing everything you feel, but they all point to a deadly virus. The anxiety starts to creep in as you stare at your screen in utter disbelief. And when you finally get to the nearest clinic in Provo and speak to the doctor, you find out that it’s just the flu. Phew!
It’s these types of stories that grind every medical expert’s gears. When patients think they know more than their doctor does, it builds distrust in the relationship. And when this happens, patients might not even go to the doctor at all. Obgyns often face this predicament as common STDs go unreported or undiagnosed.
Here’s a closer look into the internet self-diagnosis craze and why you shouldn’t do it.
The Rise of Symptom Checkers
Apart from articles that relate to your symptoms, medical websites often have what’s called a “symptom checker.” These are usually free and easy to use. All anyone has to do is to click or input their symptoms, and the website’s algorithm comes up with a list of causes. For example, if you select “bloating” and “fatigue,” the website will list irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance, celiac disease, and even generalized anxiety disorder as possible causes.
According to a 2015 study from the BMJ, only 34% of results from online symptom checkers are accurate. The researchers got to this number by evaluating 23 symptom checkers both on the web and on smartphone app stores. Pitted against the doctor’s 90% accuracy, symptom checkers are obviously outclassed.
…Even in Mental Health
An article by author and professor Srini Pillay, M.D., published in the online magazine Psychology Today, tells the dangers of self-diagnosis of mental illness. Pillay stated that when a person comes up with their own conclusion that they have a certain mental illness, they’re ignoring other possible causes of their symptoms. Some symptoms of particular mental illnesses may be present in other diseases, as well.
Pillay also stressed the risk of self-diagnosing a psychiatric illness that’s hiding a medical issue. He used depression caused by a brain tumor as an example. If a person buys over-the-counter medicine for their self-diagnosed “depression,” they’re missing out on treatment for the actual cause — the brain tumor.
You’re Misleading Your Doctor
Even if doctors are experts in their field, your constant interruption with your self-diagnosis could mislead them. When this happens, there’s a chance you could be prescribed the wrong medication and dosage. You’ll end up wasting both you and your doctor’s time trying to find the right treatment for you. You’re also letting your disease linger on, causing more problems as time goes on.
Self-diagnosis is as dangerous as diseases themselves. There’s nothing wrong with checking your symptoms online, as long as you only use them as a basis for your questions for your doctor. When you do, use websites like WebMD and Mayo Clinic. You should never view causes you see online as definite answers. And if you’re not sure about your doctor’s diagnosis, get a second opinion from an equally good doctor.