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What Are the Dangers of Self-Diagnosis Via the Internet?

Imtiaz is a registered pharmacist with 9+ years of experience in freelance medical writing. He holds a Bachelor's in Pharmacy.

Online self diagnosis is the process of diagnosing or identifying medical conditions using available internet information.

Online self diagnosis is the process of diagnosing or identifying medical conditions using available internet information.

Overview

With the rise in health care cost, most people now look for cheaper alternatives online to help cope with their hefty medical bills. Not surprisingly, they often use Dr. Google to self-diagnose everything from a simple headache to cancer. And, shockingly, some even buy "cure for all" type health products from manufacturers they've never known.

I'll not be surprised if you say that you have also used Dr. Google to self-diagnose your condition. But, believe me or not, self-diagnosis via internet is as dangerous as misleading. Accordingly, in this hub, I would like to discuss why online self-diagnosis is risky and why you shouldn't try it.

Poll

Safety Issues

Here are some potential issues that you need to consider before self-diagnosing your condition. These include:

  • The diagnosis may be wrong and misleading.
  • The diagnosis may cause worthless anxiety.
  • The diagnosis may convince you that nothing is wrong, so you don't need to visit a doctor. This can prolong your much needed visit to the physician.

Without proper clinical diagnosis and medical attention, your condition may get worse. In case of a serious illness, a delay in proper medical treatment may lead to serious complications.

Risk Factors at a Glance

  • Misdiagnosis
  • Misinformation
  • Unnecessary worry
  • Improper treatment
  • Drug abuse
  • Waste of money


Self-diagnosis Facts

  • According to recently published reports, a large number of women in the UK and US nowadays use self-diagnosis as a means to find a solution for their problems. In most instances they often diagnose themselves as having a peculiar condition, while the alarm was for something else such as breast cancer, asthma or hypertension.
  • A study, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, concluded that self-diagnosis using the internet could be unwise because users likely to focus on symptoms -- based on their self-negativity bias -- rather than the risk of having the illness.


Misdiagnosis

Self-diagnosis via the internet can be not only misleading but also very confusing. More than hundreds of serious health conditions share a number of similar symptoms. For example, nausea and vomiting are the most common symptoms of many conditions, including motion sickness, emotional stress, drug overdose, food poisoning, stomach flu, ulcers, gallbladder disease, some forms of cancer, and many more.

Assume that you are having a vomiting tendency (or have already vomited) and feeling unwell. If you Google for conditions associated with vomiting, it will lead you to pages related to digestive diseases and cyclic vomiting syndrome.

No doubt, it will be confusing for you to decide whether you're having a specific condition mentioned above or something else.

Only a through clinical investigation by a trained physician can let you know about your condition.

Symptoms of any medical condition can vary from person to person. For a specific condition, what you find in a medical website are the most common symptoms. But chances are high that you might experience completely dissimilar symptoms.

So, ultimately, the findings of an online self-diagnosis can lead you to two possible results: (1) misdiagnosis and (2) unwarranted anxiety.

Self-diagnosis can freak you out!

Self-diagnosis can freak you out!

Unwarranted Anxiety

As self-diagnosis often leads to misdiagnosis, no doubt it also brings some unnecessary worries. For example, if you search abdominal pain as a symptom, you could come up with more than 140 possible causes, including colon cancer.

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So, it's highly likely that your self-diagnosis can make think you're having a serious condition while the condition may be caused by a simple increase in gastric acidity. And this unnecessary worry may persist and grow up, unless you check out with a doctor.

Article rewriting becomes increasingly popular in these days because of Google's duplicate content penalties.

Article rewriting becomes increasingly popular in these days because of Google's duplicate content penalties.

Misinformation or Cyberquackery

Today, thousands of websites provide medical information online. And It's really difficult to make sure the information you're getting is accurate, because medical misinformation or 'cyberquackery' is rife on the internet.

As search engines nowadays demand unique and plagiarism free contents, many owners or management body of these sites often hire writers who are especially well in article rewriting and spinning. Not surprisingly, most of these sites provide about 80% similar information. The differences you'll find only in writing style, format, and word choice.

No doubt, these writers are really well in writing a copy that can pass any plagiarism checking software. But the problem is most of them aren't with any medical related background. I believe you know it very well that what could happen if a nonprofessional does something in place of a specialized one.

No, these writers don't do any massacre in their writings! But, most often, they misinterpret medical terms when altering it with a substitute term. For example, "gastrointestinal discomfort" is a common symptom of diarrhea, but if you write "stomach upset" instead of it, that would sound a completely different meaning.

Well, I need to apologize here, because it's not that all medical websites do the same. Many trustworthy sites provide up-to-date or accurate information. However, I need to add that these sites use their web presence to make money in addition to advising the public. So, obviously, you will see some promotional products or services -- in line with the information -- there that aren't relevant for the readers.

A recent PEW research reported that about 80% of American internet users looked online for health info. And, half of them rely on online information without checking whether it's trustworthy or not!

A recent PEW research reported that about 80% of American internet users looked online for health info. And, half of them rely on online information without checking whether it's trustworthy or not!

Improper Treatment

Internet has opened some new doors for illegal and unethical businesses. As more and more scammers and spammers are occupying internet, consumers are now at higher of being scammed.

A large number of health websites help promote a huge range of health and medical products in order to monetize their sites. Not, surprisingly, while reading a medical article on those sites, you may jump into a cure-for-all type dietary product presented in a so convincing way that you can't resist yourself from buying it.

However, the problem is the product you want to buy or already bought might not be recommended for you at all. It may also contain an ingredient you are allergic to.

Additionally, many of these products come from unknown manufacturers. Can you guarantee that those products contain the same ingredients written on their labels? I bet, no!

Therefore, you should always consider consulting with a doctor or pharmacist before buying a dietary product.

What do you think about self-diagnosis?

Discussion

Internet provides us a great opportunity to make ourselves more informed about different diseases and conditions. But you have to accept the fact that self-diagnosis using online information can never replace a face-to-face discussion with a physician. If you use it to have a good understanding of your condition, it can help you to make a better decision.

Use internet not to self-diagnose but to understand your condition. It is a good idea to discuss what you have found online with your doctor. Visit your doctor and discuss your findings. If you are not satisfied with his/her suggestions, get a second opinion.

For this, you may try online medical forums and doctor consultation sites. However, there are some advantages and disadvantages of trying online consultation sites, as well.

In conclusion, to get yourself more informed with trustworthy health and medical information, I would suggest you to go for the government, nonprofit, or educational sites where contents are regularly updated by a group of highly professional individuals.

Sites you can Trust for Health and Medical Information

© 2014 Imtiaz Ibne Alam

Comments

Jalil Thurber on August 14, 2014:

I think it is wonderful that many people use the internet to inform themselves with respect to their symptoms. However, I do not believe that using a search engine for self-assessment is the best approach. As an emergency physician, I have seen many people make needless and costly ER visits after 'googling' their symptoms online. In many cases, an online search for answers actually led to an unfounded escalation of fears. A recent study by Microsoft, found that the medical content on the internet is skewed towards more serious conditions. This is part of the reason why ‘googling’ your symptoms is not the best way to arrive at a diagnosis. However, the internet is a powerful tool and it can be leveraged to help ‘online diagnosers’ arrive at the answers they seek. At Symptify our contribution to this problem is the creation of a proprietary, patent-pending algorithmic engine that renders virtual consultations by asking users a series of questions regarding their symptoms. Because Symptify takes into account the users own medical history it gives personalized and precise results. This has helped many people become more knowledgeable regarding their health conditions and help them avoid cyberchondria. Symptify also facilitates a user’s access to healthcare providers by allowing them to transmit their consultation record and medical profile to participating facilities. Check it out at: www.symptify.com

-Jalil Thurber M.D.

The first step to therapy is identifying the disease.

Imtiaz Ibne Alam (author) from Dhaka, Bangladesh on June 07, 2014:

You need to consult with a physician, because you may never identify what underlying condition is causing the problem. Yes, home remedies can help but first you must diagnose the condition. Otherwise, it may cause more harm than good.

Brad Kohen from West Palm Beach, FL on June 07, 2014:

Thanks for writing a post on an issue that needs to be concerned of :) Well, but I don't think it's that bad at all! You can deal with many not so serious conditions using online information. What do you think?

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