Why you should avoid self-diagnosing health problems online

Have you ever felt ill and typed your symptoms into Google? If you have, you’re not alone. Lots of us use internet search engines when we feel unwell, when something hurts, or when we don’t feel right.

But, according to a new study, this could be a major mistake.

The study was carried out by Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Australia, and it found that for nearly 80% of respondents, the internet is the first place they look when experiencing worrying symptoms.

What’s wrong with checking symptoms online?

Although it’s common for people to check symptoms online, the study found that using the internet to get a self-diagnosis can often lead to getting the wrong care.

The truth is, search engines don’t really know what’s going on with your health at all – this isn’t what they were designed for.

The researchers found that the frequency of the correct diagnosis coming up first on Google was just 36%. And, it was in the top 3 results just 52% of the time.

Not only could this lead to the wrong care, in some cases, it may give the searcher a false sense of security and they may avoid seeking expert advice when it’s needed.

What’s the solution?

Like anything, it’s important to strike a balance. Online tools can be helpful, but it’s also essential to seek proper health care alongside it.

“While it may be tempting to use these tools to find out what may be causing your symptoms, most of the time they are unreliable at best and can be dangerous at worst,” the study’s lead author Michella Hill, said in a news release.

She added: “We’ve all been guilty of being ‘cyberchondriacs’ and googling at the first sign of a niggle or headache. But the reality is these websites and apps should be viewed very cautiously as they do not look at the whole picture — they don’t know your medical history or other symptoms.”

“These sites are not a replacement for going to the doctor, but they can be useful in providing more information once you do have an official diagnosis.”

“We’re also seeing symptom checkers being used to good effect with the current COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the UK’s National Health Service is using these tools to monitor symptoms and potential ‘hotspot’ locations for this disease on a national basis.”

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