Knowledge is power! But when does too much information cause you to lose your common sense? There is a growing phenomenon in hospitals and GP surgeries around the country, and indeed worldwide, that some people are presenting with illnesses they have diagnosed themselves and researched thoroughly.
Some will be right and some will be wrong. For many, they will have expended and wasted a lot of emotional energy and time worrying unnecessarily.
An informed patient is a great patient, as they are more likely to adhere to advice and have good medication compliance - they understand their illness and they are keen to help themselves. Sometimes we, as GPs, can learn from them.
When does it become a problem? It becomes a problem when they present late and have come to either a very serious conclusion to a simple problem or have, more rarely, dismissed a serious problem as a trivial one.
Do you Google your symptoms? Headache can be a symptom of brain tumour - but you can have brain tumours with no headache. Numb foot can be caused by sciatica (or also Multiple sclerosis and leprosy!)
If you want to research your symptoms, be sure to follow a few basic rules to protect yourself from unnecessary harm:
1. Write down a list of your symptoms on a piece of paper before you start to look on line. Do not add to the list. This makes you less susceptible to suggestion and more likely to stick to your actual symptoms.
3. Never buy medicines online. If you are researching medication, again, only use reputable sites. The Irish Medication Regulatory Board has a website, www.hpra.ie
, which contains searchable lists of medications and patient information leaflets; www.medicines.ie
is a similar website
4. Even if you start with the internet, don’t stop with the internet. If you have a symptom or medical issue, go to a doctor and have a proper examination and discussion - nothing can yet replace a proper physical examination to get to the actual root cause of an illness. If you are unwell, you may need tests such as blood test or X-rays. Don’t sit at home and worry alone. Don’t get dragged into worrying about something you have yet had a diagnosis for.
5. If you have Googled something and it worries you, discuss it when you are at your GP. Hopefully it will allay your fears.
6. Set yourself a time limit if your symptoms haven’t cleared up - don’t get sucked into a doom loop; if you think it is serious, get help.
Pre-internet medical information was available only in large books. It led to the precursor of Cyberchondria- Medical Student Syndrome where, as we learned of each new disease, we imagined we had it. The information age had added to this phenomenon. If you are researching ways to feed and rear your children, don’t discount the value of instead going for a cup of coffee with a veteran mum who has been there and done that - you can generally get more realistic and useable advice than on the internet.