How To Not Self-Diagnose

The internet has been great for a lot of different things. It has changed the way that we are able to communicate with one another, it has made getting ahold of doctors much easier and we can even make appointments online without ever having to call the office at all. However, the drawback with this advance in technology and the ease of being able to access medical doctors means that it is also easier than ever to go to "Dr. Google" and look up your symptoms. Looking up your symptoms on Google can be a helpful tool at times and can give you something to talk about with your trained medical doctor, but it can also be a very harmful tool if not used correctly.

Typing in all of your symptoms in a search engine can bring up hundreds of possible diagnoses that "could be wrong with you" which can cause paranoia to breed quickly. You can have a simple cold and Google can end up causing you to truly believe you have cancer and are going to die within a week. In fact, a study that was performed in 2015 said that using online tools to diagnose yourself should only be a tool and something with which to talk to your doctor about as it actually gives you faulty information more often than not. Ging online to diagnose yourself can cause you to experience bad side effects like online mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Thankfully, there are ways to avoid diagnosing yourself online and suffering from online mental health problems like depression and anxiety. Below are a few ways that will keep you from diagnosing yourself with things you read online while still using the online tools to write down all of your symptom descriptions so you and your doctor can have open and honest communication.

Know what your body feels like when you are perfectly healthy
For many years in the medical community, it has been widely accepted that a person's normal "non-fever" body temperature is between 97-98 degrees. This can cause people who run at 99 degrees to panic and think that they have a constant low-grade fever and are therefore incredibly sick all of the time. However, it has been widely proven recently that many people simply run hotter than others and it is completely normal. The point is, things from body temperature to hormone levels vary very differently from one person to another. You probably do not know your body's hormone levels or what is going on with your blood, but you do know what is normal for yourself.
It is important to know how you feel in general when you are in perfect health so that when something is off in your body, you are very aware of it and can proceed to talk to your doctor.

Knowing your baseline does not just mean being aware when you might have a cold or a stomach ache, this should include knowing your moods, being able to notice when your energy levels dip, how your sleep patterns are making you feel, etc. All of these are changes your body can experience when you are developing a sickness or a condition.

A lot of your factors can change a lot, so googling it can lead you to think that you are incredibly ill when in fact you may just be going through a more stressful patch in life than usual. Avoid diagnosing yourself with something serious by keeping a journal and logging how you feel and what is going on in your life when you experience a change so you can see how it directly correlates with one another.

Only research your symptoms in credible places
If you are experiencing some symptoms and are beginning to get concerned, but do not want to go to the doctor unless it is serious, make sure to really look at how credible the websites you are looking at are. Most medical websites such as WebMD will give you better quality answers than something like Wikipedia or a chat room where people without any medical training bounce ideas around.
Take notes, keep an open mind, write down what you learn, and then consult your findings with a doctor who can more accurately diagnose you.

Ask your doctor a lot of questions
Your doctor is a trained professional who is not only there to make you feel better physically but is there to put your mind at ease as well by answering all the questions you may have. Your doctor is probably going to gently tell you that your self-diagnosis is wrong, but they still want to listen to all of your symptoms and hear your true thoughts about what you believe is going on with your body. Do not go into your doctor's office expecting to be dismissed or get defensive because you are wrong, instead go in with an open mind and acknowledge that you do not know everything simply because you did some research on Google. Ask your doctor as many questions as you can think of and ask them if how they ruled out a particular disease you may think you have.
When we research our symptoms online, we often end up going into our doctor's office feeling very anxious and worried and instantly wanting answers. Medicine is often a lot of guess-work and can take time to find answers through tests and blood work. Instead of demanding answers from your doctor, ask them what you can do, what resources you can look at, what your next steps are, etc. This will help give you more information which can put your mind at ease and can put you on the path of feeling better much quicker.

Do not be determined that you have to leave with a particular diagnosis
When you consult "Dr. Google" too much, you can get fixated on a certain diagnosis and convince yourself that you have a particular disease or issue. When you finally get to your real doctor and they give you a different diagnosis you can end up being very put out and can even leave in disbelief because you are so convinced that you diagnosed yourself correctly. It is important to remember that your doctors are trained to consider a whole scope of issues and know what to look for, so they are better at diagnosing you than Google is. Of course, if you go to your doctor and you do not feel as though they listened to you or took their time to listen to your concerns, it is always wise to seek out a second opinion and find someone that can help put your thoughts at ease.

In the end, it is best to stay away from medically diagnosing yourself online as much as you can. It can really send you down a rabbit hole and mess with your mental health and cause a lot of anxiety. Instead, take note of your physical symptoms, remove yourself from the computer, and engage in something else. If symptoms persist, go see your medical doctor and speak openly and honestly with them so you can be diagnosed correctly and get on your way to feeling better than ever.

The internet and websites that tell us about our physical health can be amazing tools and can help lead us toward better health, but it does not replace what a trained medical professional can tell us. Use the internet as a tool, not as a definitive diagnosis.

If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a free, 24-hour hotline, at 1.800.273.8255.
If this is an emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. RethinkMyHealthcare does not offer crisis counseling or emergency services.