Why You Should Never Google Your Symptoms When You’re Sick

posted: 09/30/15
by: Mara Betsch
Woman with flu

It's about to be flu season, and as tempting as it is to talk to Dr. Google instead of your actual doctor, looking up symptoms can do more harm than good.

Lots of people use the Internet to look up their symptoms -- 35 percent of Americans have gone online to diagnose themselves, according to The Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project.

Among those survey-takers who tried to self-diagnose, 41 percent said that a medical professional confirmed their self-diagnoses, more than one in three never followed up with a clinician for a second opinion, and 18 percent learned their self-diagnoses were wrong after visiting their doctor. That's pretty scary, don't you think?

But if you can't resist the urge, here's a few tips for getting the best info:

Don't search broad symptoms

Broad symptoms like fatigue can occur in everything from common diseases like colds to chronic conditions like cancer. Looking up these symptoms may cause you believe your health issue is more severe than in actually is. Or, it can work the opposite way. You may actually be very sick but brush off your symptoms as nothing special, causing you to delay treatment.

Use trusted sources

Cleveland Clinic, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Mayo Clinic are all trusted sites, but be careful of blogs or sites that may have a hidden agenda. You may read a personal story about a rare disease and think "hey, that's me!" but that patient may leave out her family history or another important factor that was part of his or her diagnosis. And be especially careful about untested home remedies!

Beware of "cyberchondria"

Perusing these medical sites may cause you to believe that your forgetfulness is really the first symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer's. If you are a bit of a hypochondriac, it's probably best if you avoid searching your symptoms all-together.

Go see your doctor

Even if you discover what you think you may have, that doesn't mean you're managing it properly. Treatment plans listed on the WebMDs of the world are the most generic ones, and only a doctor will be able to tailor a plan to your needs.