Tips for Finding Health Information Online

Stop DR Google aims to convince YOU that Googling a health symptom is dangerous and to stop! BUT, we know it is impossible to make ALL OF YOU walk away from the keyboard. The least we can do is give you tips on how to find trustworthy health information online and make safe choices.

cyberchondriacs

Tip 1. Research the website not just your symptom!
Look into the site you are reading, don’t just select the first website that Google suggests. Ensure the information was written by a reputable health organisation – read the ‘about us’ section to validate it is a trustworthy site. Charities and associations that are dedicated to a specific health condition are a good source of information, for example, Endometriosisaustralia.org or diabetesaustralia.com.au.

Tip 2. Be specific with your choice of Google words
Googling specific health symptoms will be more likely to generate accurate results. Vague searches will often be a symptom for a terrible illness; for instance, a bad headache is a symptom of brain cancer. But the chance of having brain cancer is extremely low compared to other headache related conditions. Don’t wander around sites just because you are curious, only read articles specific to your symptoms only.

Tip 3. Consistency
Don’t just read one site, read a few that back up your findings. This will improve the accuracy, relevance and validation to your self-diagnosis. Look for facts and figures; steer clear of opinion pieces, exaggerations and hyperboles.isportacus-panic-buttonTip 4. Don’t Panic
Even if you follow the above steps and a terrible diagnosis shows up, do not panic! You must remember a rare disease is RARE and will always require a professional diagnosis for confirmation.

Screaming businessman looking at his laptop in office

Tip 5. Accept that your self-diagnosis can be wrong
Visit a doctor! Accept that he/she may tell you it isn’t a rare disease and Google was in fact, incorrect.

Don’t let the web, get to your head!

Stop Dr Google.

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The Tale of a Cyberchondriac

This is the story of Lorraine Edmiston. A 21-year-old cyberchondriac who believed she was experiencing the symptoms and causes of various serious diseases for months.

Lorraine was experiencing stomach cramps, bloating, nausea, reflux and excessive burping for weeks. With a full-time job and university, she struggled to find time to visit her doctor. Instead, she turned to DR Google for help and advice.

She decided to Google ‘abdominal bloating’ and found 48 possible diseases related to her symptoms on healthline.com. She spent hours reading up on each disease, looked at various websites and sources to narrow down the possible options.

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At the top of the list was indigestion and lactose intolerance – conditions suffered by Lorraine’s mum. Lorraine wasn’t too worried at first, until H. Pylori infection was another suggestion. H. Pylori causes stomach ulcers, another health issue experienced by her mum. At the stage, Lorraine became anxious and began questioning her mum of her experiences and symptoms to see if there were similarities. Many of the symptoms matched up causing stress amongst both Lorraine and her worried mum.

Another suggested cause was gluten intolerance – a condition suffered by Lorraine’s sister. From here, Lorraine chose to go on a gluten free diet to see if this would help. She altered her lifestyle and diet for 2 months. During this time, she didn’t notice her symptoms improving and continued to use DR Google, rather than visit her GP.

During this time, Lorraine discovered one of her friends recently experienced similar health symptoms. Her friend had a hiatal hernia; a condition in which part of the stomach pushes up through the diaphragm muscle causing pain in the abdomen and chest, belching, heartburn, reflux and nausea. Lorraine read up about hiatal hernias on Google and came to the conclusion that she had it!

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At this point, she finally decided to visit her doctor. Her doctor was convinced she was showing symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), however Lorraine was not convinced due to her Google searches. She had convinced herself that it was a more serious issue and demanded tests to be performed. Lorraine underwent X-rays, ultrasounds, a colonoscopy and endoscopy – only to be told her doctor’s initial diagnosis was correct and was suffering from IBS.

Lorraine’s story proves the importance of visiting a doctor when health symptoms arise. She could have prevented stress, panic and changing her diet for 2 months if she didn’t Google her symptoms. Instead of trusting her doctor’s diagnosis, she chose to trust Google – she could have easily avoided hefty medical bills, undergoing anesthetics and spending unnecessary time in waiting rooms.

‘Don’t let the web, get to your head’

Stop Dr Google.