Most of us have used Dr. Google for signs and symptoms that we have experienced. It is a good tool if you use credible sources AND you know how to differentiate things. Too often, many of us do not know how to discern relevant information from non-relevant information. You get too focused on what is happening and the cause. What you have determined as the cause may be happenstance. It just happened to occur and has nothing to do with what is happening.
November 16, 2022
I think that it is great that we can research information. We need to be careful and use credible websites that have good information. You must do your due diligence on what sources are good, credible, and have up-to-date information. If you are going to research medical information, you deserve to find and use the best available. This is also where it is a good idea to know your biases and find out what your unknown biases are. It makes a big difference in how you search for things.
You can go down a rabbit hole in a New York minute and still have NO good information. You will have information, but it probably will not be good information. What is your purpose for searching for this particular information? Is it to prove what you think is going on or are you open and curious about what might be happening?
It is great to have your signs and symptoms written down. It is great to have a diary of what has been going on, what you have been eating, what physical activity you have been doing, and what is your general mood. For those of you thinking, that is too much to do. Then why are you searching for information online? Are you familiar with the term “GIGO?” Garbage in, garbage out. Think about that.
You don’t have a clear picture of what you need to search for. Why do you think there are millions of pieces of information for you to look at? Why do you think there are multiple possibilities when you use symptom checkers? You have lasered in on one thing and you are dismissing other possibilities because you are not taking the time to assess your whole body, all of your current diagnoses, and the medications you already take.
Look, our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made. We have our own set of “normal for us,” kinds of things. You may have only one diagnosis, but someone else may have four different diagnoses. The totality of you matters, you have to step back and look at the whole picture.
I want you to be well-read and up-to-date on what is going on with your body. Find the best resources. Work with your doctors. It is great to discuss different possibilities. We know a lot of times it will be the process of elimination. Use major hospitals, such as the Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic, Or Johns Hopkins. Use PubMed. Use the CDC. Use NIH. Use the (dot)Org sites for diagnoses.
Questions to ask when evaluating a website:
- Who runs the site?
- What is the purpose of the site? To inform people? To sell products? To promote the opinions of a person or a group?
- Who pays for the site? Is it ads? Do they clearly look like ads or “neutral” health information? Is it a business?
- Is the health information fair and balanced or biased towards a “claim or cure?”
- Where does the information come from? Do they cite and post references?
- Is the information up to date? Things change fast in the medical world.
I think it is better to use your time and energy to keep a health journal and talk regularly with your primary care doctor. Together you and your doctor will figure out the next steps and if you need to see a specialist. Too often folks either overestimate their symptoms and end up taking the wrong medication or doing the wrong self-treatment. For others, you underestimate your symptoms and do nothing or waste time waiting while the condition worsens. I have recently learned a couple of new terms, “health anxiety,” and “cyberchrondia.”
Health anxiety refers to the excessive worry that “something” is wrong or you are fearful of a missed diagnosis or a misdiagnosis. The key word is “excessive.” Are you adding unnecessary worrying or anxiety to your life? If that is all you are fixated on, then I say, YES. Let’s try some balance here. Start researching things you can do, right now to improve your health no matter what else is going on. Eating for nutrition, doing physical activity every day, and drinking your water every day. Focus on what you can change to make a more positive impact on your health.
Questions about a sore throat or if someone has slighted you used to come and go in your mind. You let it go. It was just a passing thought. If anything seemed serious, you would go get it checked out. But now, you have a computer at your fingertips and you have to know. Because you can. Statistically improbable, but you latch on to it. Down the rabbit hole, you go, and you are finding more and more of the awful things it could be. Never mind that none of the sites you are now looking at are “good” sites. Your mind goes to the worst possible thing. That is what it does automatically, we have to stop it and get back to balance. You may be looking for reassurance that you are not going to die or you are going to be okay…but that is not what you are finding. You are finding the doom and gloom scenarios. It is a freaking algorithm people. Once you click on a link, you are given many more links with that same type of information.
According to Psychology Today, there are 5 tell-tale signs that you are a cyberchondriac.
- You check online for symptom information from up to 1 to 3 hours per day. On average, people high in illness anxiety spent a little over 2 hours a day as a high point during the past month on their worst day. In contrast, people low in illness anxiety spent less than an hour, or 1 hour at the most on their very worst days.
- You fear having several different diseases: Those high in illness anxiety feared having nearly 5 diseases compared to their low illness anxiety counterparts, who feared having less than 2. How many diseases do you think you might have?
- On your worst day, you’ve checked 3 to 4 times a day: People high in illness anxiety not only spend more time but also take more opportunities to search online for information on their symptoms. Those low in illness anxiety check perhaps once a day, if that, even when they’re feeling the sickest.
- Looking online to get symptom information makes you feel more anxious: If those high in illness anxiety are trying to reassure themselves, their online probing is only making them worse. During and after their checking sessions, they report far higher anxiety than individuals scoring low on the illness anxiety scale.
- Your health is actually medically stable: Although people high in illness anxiety had a higher self-reported disability, their health hasn’t undergone major changes. They were actually less likely to have an unstable medical illness than were those low in illness anxiety.
If these 5 qualities apply to you, The Doherty-Torstrick team propose that your best way to handle your anxiety is to stop checking.
Susan Krauss Whitbourne 2016
Tips for when you go down a rabbit hole and have a cyberchrondiac attack.
- Remember it is not all you. Sometimes your brain hijacks you.
- Talk about your fears with your primary care doctor. Maybe you are searching and searching for things to go wrong because of a prior catastrophe. Waiting for the “other shoe to drop,” as they say. The reality is that you are afraid something might sneak up on you again.
- Check in with your body, learn to meditate, and feel your feelings. You don’t have to act on them, but you must recognize them.
- Question why you are believing this way. What is the evidence? Is it true? Is it helpful?
- Don’t beat yourself up. The stress is coming from somewhere, let’s try to identify that and work on that.
- Sometimes, you just have to breathe deeply for 5 minutes and move on to something else.
- Set a time limit on your search – 20 minutes