I came across an article recently on the Daily Mail about ‘cyberchondriacs’. It’s lovingly titled :
“‘Cyberchondriacs’ clogging up A&E after googling their symptoms and worrying that they’re seriously ill”.
The article suggests that 16 million Brits go online each month to Google their symptoms and self-diagnose. It’s a worrying article for two reasons.
1. We have access to oodles of information and countless scare stories these days that we are hyper aware of our health. Got a few issues going on with your body? Dump them all in to Google and your head will spin at the list of things that may be wrong with you. We are so aware, so concerned, that some find things that aren’t there, joining the dots, catastrophizing; something simple and not serious can suddenly become overwhelming, a serious illness or disease.
2. So many of us are being ignored or dismissed that we’re having to take our health in our own hands to find answers. Not trusting those that are supposed to care for us, we hunt down possibilities online and come up with potential avenues to explore.
I think it is impossible to say that 16 million of us are Googling symptoms and having sleepless nights thinking we have serious illnesses because the Internet told us so. What is perhaps more likely is that there’s a bit of truth in each possibility.
The abundance of information and the around-the-clock connectedness is an amazing thing, but with such amazing things comes the possibility of danger. This could come in a variety of ways, from poor quality or incorrect information, to ourself starting to believe our symptoms may fit a variety of serious diagnoses.
We should empower ourselves, but most will likely agree that everything should be done in moderation. The information found on the Internet should be taken with a pinch of salt, and that includes all of the ‘correct’ information from governments and experts, with recommendations on what’s good or bad for us changing by the day. What we read we should read with caution. When we type in symptoms, we should be aware of the sources of the information, that there is no black or white.
If it weren’t for Google, I wouldn’t have got as far as I have with my diagnoses. I think I would have given up years ago. It gave me possibilities to run down, not to mention the courage and confidence to follow through with various appointments when I was being ignored.
The Internet may not be a panacea for our problems, but if used with a healthy degree of skepticism and awareness of the potential pitfalls, it can prove to be an empowering tool to improve our health when we meet obstacles with those health care providers and professionals that fail us to varying degrees.