Down with the sickness

I started writing this article while I was ill on my (death)bed, desperately attempting to drink as much water with lemon, orange juice and tea with honey as I could. While the sequel to Osmosis Jones was filming inside my body, I had been carrying out my routine web-surf to assure I was not overreacting. It’s the same pattern of symptoms I usually get when having the flu: High fever, cold chills, sore throat, headache, eternal headache, etc., yet why am I always convinced that what I’ve caught now is something different than before?

It’s due to the double-edged sword of self-diagnosis, otherwise known as cyberchondria. If you’re prone to the flu, then I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. With the plethora of information we have constantly available online, it’s easy for Americans to scrounge for details on their current condition. It may save you that extra $20 you have to pay the clinic after the doctor tells you to go back home and stock up on more Tylenol, or it may save you from the extra hundreds of dollars you’d be paying after the ambulance takes you straight to the emergency room.

In a world where we can buy almost any type of good or service with just a click and a credit card, it’s understandable to resort to the Internet for answers. However, it may be as easy to mistakenly diagnose yourself as it is to find the symptoms related to the diagnosis. In 2013, of the 81 percent of U.S. adults who use the Internet, 59 percent say they have looked online for health information in the past year and 35 percent tend to regard their own symptoms with more urgency. That’s over half of us resorting to answers from the Internet rather than doctors, who are trained professionals.

A flaw to cyberchondria is depending on the Internet for answers. The Internet is full of answers, but it’s also full of false information. Medical websites are now providing symptom-checkers, which are a more accurate system that takes analyses and evaluates symptoms with more personalized, direct questions. A recent experiment from Harvard Medical School has shown that the 23 symptom checkers they tested “provided correct triage advice in 58 percent of cases,” with the checkers performing better in serious cases, which had recommended emergency care in 80 percent of cases. These are websites such as Mayo Clinic, WebMD and Steps2Care. They reported these checkers as acting somewhat overly cautious, and encouraged users to seek care for cases where staying at home might have been more ideal.

This leads me to the red flag of browsing online at all for medical answers. Don’t let online research you’ve done be the deciding factor on what to do. Doctors slave away through medical school for a reason, and it would be better to listen to someone who’s spent a majority of their lives understanding the human body over the dreaded Yahoo Answers column.

The most important thing is that you know when to seek further medical attention. Simply ignoring your well-being will only further envelop you in a series of sicknesses. When it comes to self-diagnosing, your only prognosis should be to consult your doctor.