Cyberchondria SelfDiagnosis Disasters

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - 9:24am

Looking for medical advice on the internet can do more harm than good.

There's a new buzz word among doctors: Cyberchondria.

You probably have it if you've been Googling your symptoms.

Turning to Google to figure out your mysterious symptoms can turn up so many results, it's downright confusing.

Krista Doster found out the hard way.

The 41-year-old mom even limited her search to the websites recommended by doctors.

She thought she had an answer.

"So I'm looking and everything I'm reading says, 'You're having a heart attack,'" she recalls.

Krista had her son drive her to the emergency room.

She had an inflamed gallbladder that had to be removed, not heart problems.

Dr. Jane Sadler, Krista's physician, says diagnosing yourself on the internet can cause unnecessary fear that you have diseases you really don't.

Cyberchondria is the term used to describe that fear.

"It becomes bad when they arm themselves with too much information," Dr. Sadler warns. "It's created anxiety and their family members are worried about them and they come in with a number of questions when they have a simple concern that has an obvious answer."

When a patient enters the doctors office, armed with a stack of internet printouts, what they contain can either help or hinder the diagnosis.

"They're pre-educated, which sometimes can be a good thing," notes Dr. Sadler.

Still, physicians often find it challenging to convince patients they don't need extra tests to diagnose a simple problem.

"Those tests are not very cheap, and so sometimes it adds to the cost of care, but that's why we need to partner with our patients with their medical decision-making based on their cyber research and try to avoid cyberchondria," Dr. Sadler adds.

She says it's important to partner with patients and guide them through their online research. Sadler even hops on the web herself to find answers in the exam room.

"As physicians we need to accept that these patients are coming in with information and we don't need to roll our eyes," she says.

Cyberspace may not have given Krista the right answer, but it led her to it.

"It's not always bad to look stuff up online because otherwise I probably would have stayed at home," she says.

So to cure what ails you, use the internet as a resource, but not the only resource.
 

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