Have you ever run a set of symptoms through a Google search? I sure have, and I can’t even begin to tell you how many times the internet has told me I had cancer. For the record, I have never had cancer.
It isn’t just physical things that people Google either. I have often asked Google if it is normal to feel a certain way or react in a certain way.
Diagnosing your physical or mental health is never really a good idea, and I say this as someone who used to do it a lot. I had to learn a few lessons before I understood the damage I was doing by diagnosing myself based on a visit to Dr. Google’s office.
What harm is there in using the internet to arrive at a self-diagnosis?
The anxiety and stress that you can put yourself under because of a diagnosis based on internet information (which could be flat out incorrect at times), can often do you more harm than whatever is actually wrong with you.
Stress and health anxiety can cause a myriad of problems on their own. This stress can also lead some patients to neglect their problems altogether. They could also develop feelings of depression and hopelessness.
Also, self-diagnosing can lead to people taking medicines or trying at-home remedies for ailments that they don’t have, which can also make their real diagnosis worse. An incorrect self-diagnosis can also cost you more money!
Let’s say you Google your symptoms and decide that you have a sensitivity to gluten. You go and spend all kinds of money on gluten-free bread, snacks, and pasta.
Now, this isn’t entirely a bad thing as you likely ate a little healthier, but if you didn’t cut out those things and only bought expensive replacements because of a self-diagnosed gluten sensitivity, you could have just been wasting money, buying an $8 loaf of bread.
A self-diagnosis could lead to you sharing inaccurate information with others, which only furthers confusion and misinformation. With everything readily accessible to so many people that could do more harm than you realize.
Self-diagnosing can also create stress for doctors, although some doctors can use it as a platform for building trust, others can not. If misinformation has spread on a large scale, it can make the doctor’s job harder, because they must convince people that someone they trust gave them wrong information.
What you can do instead of diagnosing yourself?
Now that you know why you shouldn’t try to diagnosis your illnesses (either physical or mental ones) by yourself, you might wonder what you can do instead. Let’s say you have used the internet and determined that a test result or symptom might be a deeper issue. This is valuable information and gives you a baseline to ask questions.
Knowledge is power, but there is something to be said for learning that knowledge in both a classroom and practical setting while devoting years to the craft of medicine. The best thing to do now is to go seek help from the experts. It is ok to pick an expert who understands that you like to be informed and values the effort you place in managing your own health.
Not all doctors are created equal. Some are more Google savvy than others, some are more compassionate than others, some are even more intuitive than others. Put your efforts into finding the right doctor for you, as all patients are not created equal either.
Believe it or not, there are doctors who will actually encourage you to keep reading on the internet if that is something that you believe eases your anxiety. Now, be prepared for them to give you scholarly websites that they trust to provide you with accurate information.
They might also point out how reading more than a few articles will provide you with conflicting thoughts, and reiterate the fact that the internet can hold inaccurate information. Some doctors might encourage you to keep reading as a way of validating your feelings and opening up the lines of communication, as building trust is important.
Some doctors often publish their own written content on the internet! If finding a doctor that is going to be open to your penchant for hitting up WebMD is important to you, then Google your choices.
Do any of them come up with written content on their websites? Do they have a blog? This doctor might be just the one for you because they clearly understand that people use the internet as a health care tool, and won’t be shocked.
There are doctors out there who understand that patients who self-diagnose are trying to take an active role in their health care, or maybe they started doing this out of anxiety and distrust from past experiences.
These doctors are developing strategies around communication, education, and patient marketing. They build their practices so they can set themselves up for success, regardless of the information a patient brings along with them to their appointment.
What is the difference between self-diagnosis and self-advocacy?
It is okay to take an active role in your medical health. There is nothing wrong with being informed and using that information to advocate for yourself. What exactly is self-advocacy though, and how is it different from self-diagnosis?
Basically, the difference between self-advocacy and actually diagnosing yourself involves education. What are your symptoms regarding your health? What are the risks of procedures? How does your body feel differently?
The next step in self-advocacy means meeting with your doctor or the other staff around you, and having enough knowledge (like what an ultrasound can prove vs a CT scan when it comes to stones), and advocating for yourself during your healthcare. You don’t cut the doctor out and start trying all kinds of home remedies, but you aren’t afraid to voice your opinion and requests either. I will give you a quick example:
In March of 21, I was diagnosed with a 7.4mm kidney stone. The first doctor I saw recommended a ureteroscopy. This was my first kidney stone, and I wasn’t well versed in how they were handled. Google said this was a common procedure, along with lithotripsy. I didn’t ask her why she recommended one over the other.
We tried the ureteroscopy, and it proved more challenging than she thought. After the procedure, my stone (which was encased in scar tissue) remained. She had placed a stent and told me to come back for another ureteroscopy in a month.
When I returned, I saw a different urologist from that office. When I woke up from this procedure, I was told the scar tissue was so bad she couldn’t do anything other than replacing the stent.
A few days later, that doctor called me and said I would need ureter reconstructive surgery. I was upset and asked how this had happened. No one had a great answer for me, so I asked for my records, hit up Google again, and started searching for a different doctor.
My new doctor asked me why they didn’t try the lithotripsy first? I said that I had asked that (after the fact), and was told that it would have taken too long because they had to coordinate with the other hospital that had the machine.
He ended up doing that procedure, but the scar tissue around the stone was so bad that it didn’t break it all up. He had no choice but to go back up again (making this the fourth procedure for one stone), which I said was fine because at this point he had diligently explained every scan I had done, went over all the potential outcomes with me, and had contingency plans in place.
Worst-case scenario, I would need reconstructive surgery, which is unfortunately where we ended up. As part of that procedure, I needed to have a nephrostomy tube placed, which involved an ultrasound on both of my kidneys. The left looked swollen, which I expected with a blocked ureter. It was the white spot in my right kidney that freaked me out.
Thanks to my doctor painstakingly giving Urology 101 lessons, I was confident I was looking at a stone. I won’t lie this had me in a panic, because it was on my good side! So, I immediately went down to his office. I told his nurse I wanted him to look at it, not just the radiologist, and let me know what he thought. Well, my poor doctor had chosen that day to go camping.
The radiologist did not think I had made another giant (5.5mm) stone so fast, so they diagnosed it as fatty renal sinus tissue. I was not convinced and spoke with the radiologist, the radiologist’s PA, my doctor’s nurse, and my doctor’s PA, who finally ordered me a CT scan since my doctor was MIA in the woods.
I just kept saying that I wanted a definitive answer, not based on the opinion of ‘how unlikely it was that I made a new stone. My CT scan proved it was, in fact, a fatty pocket thing, but there is a little 1mm soft something in there that they will now monitor. What will not happen is that I ignore the pain or signs something is wrong and end up with a boulder that tries to pass again, and requires 8 procedures to fix. Nope, nope, nope!
Remember, it is your body and your health. You know your body best, and you will have to live with it your whole life. So don’t rush to diagnose yourself with something you might not have, and miss being able to correct something you might actually have. Learn what you can about what is going on according to the doctors and be confident enough to ask questions.
If your doctor doesn’t like that, or you don’t feel comfortable with their responses, remember it is within your rights to see any doctor you would like and get a second opinion. Take care of yourself and stay well out there.