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The Internet Can be an Aid and Threat in Self-Diagnosis

By HERWriter
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With an overabundance of online medical sources, it’s easy for people to attempt to solve their own problems and try to figure out what’s wrong with them. It can be easier sometimes to surf the Internet from home than make an appointment or find the right doctor or even go through several doctors.

However, like many doctors or psychologists may say, self-diagnosis can be dangerous. This isn’t because they are afraid of losing their importance, but diagnosing can actually be quite difficult without having full knowledge of different symptoms and disorders.

For example, according to a blog on Psychology Today, major depression can cause multiple symptoms like insomnia, inattention and depression. Someone who self-diagnoses can think they have three separate disorders instead of one overall disorder (or no disorder at all). Also, someone who self-diagnoses can overlook symptoms that might not even be a psychological disorder but could be caused by a medical condition.

If a person becomes so set on their own diagnosis, this can cause them to overlook other possibilities and symptoms, and could even stress them out over their supposed disorder.

It is important to be able to trust a professional to do his or her job, though it does help to be informed and active in a session. Patients can be active by reading up on different mental disorders, especially those they think they might have.

For example, after reading about several different disorders, I realized there were a few behaviors of mine that might be considered abnormal that I hadn’t thought to bring up before. This could prove useful in future counseling sessions and help me to further understand myself.

One popular website, www.wrongdiagnosis.com, says that “self-diagnosis is a dangerous practice.” In fact, the website is built for consumers to be more informed about their health but also encourages them to go to their doctor with this information. Users of the site need to remember the last part: go to a doctor, at least if it’s serious, is affecting daily functioning and causing harm in some way.

The website says there are two ways self-diagnosis can be negative: “failure to diagnose a serious illness, or the incorrect self-diagnosis with an extremely serious disease.” There are also those who will blow a symptom out of proportion or won’t notice all the symptoms.

An article from The Independent focuses on “cyberchondria,” which classifies some Internet users who search the Internet for a diagnosis, assume the worst and become obsessed and/or stressed over the diagnosis.

In one study by Ryen White and Eric Horvitz from Microsoft Research, it was found that “Web search engines have the potential to escalate medical concerns.” This is because users, with the help of the Internet, link common symptoms to more serious conditions and then stress over it.

Hypochondria is a psychological disorder where “patients are convinced they have a serious disease, although no problem can be diagnosed,” according to one study from the National Institutes of Health. Hyperchondria can lead to cyberchondria, since the Internet is just an outlet for those with hypochondria to worsen their disorder.

Although many people will say places like WebMD or even Wrong Diagnosis are unreliable and shouldn’t be used to self-diagnose, one Yahoo! sports blog cited a case where a baseball player used a medical application on his iPhone to correctly self-diagnose appendicitis.

Overall, being aware of symptoms and the body can be beneficial, but leave the fine print and final diagnosis for a doctor or psychologist. It can save stress, a misdiagnosis and maybe some time from surfing the Internet endlessly.


Add a Comment1 Comments

I have ocd health anxiety, and I've found that researching on the internet was one of the hardest rituals to stop. Everytime I'd search, I'd get a brief bit of relief from the anxiety, but followed by even worse distress about what I'd find, which would make me keep searching hoping for something to relieve the distress, a vicious cycle. But seeing my doctor was also a ritual to reduce anxiety, that didn't last longer than one visit and I'd end up going back again. I'm slowly learning in through exposure/response prevention therapy to tolerate the anxiety of uncertainty--no human gets a definitive 100% certainty that they don't have a certain disease or that their doctor is 100% right. It also helps if I can be honest with my doctor that my anxiety is active, and that she doesn't make me feel ashamed that I have an anxiety disorder.

May 21, 2010 - 5:24am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.