The internet is a dangerous place. It can be helpful, but it's also treacherous. We hold, at our fingertips, a virtually comprehensive knowledge of everything from auto mechanics to more recipes than Betty Crocker ever imagined. And we can look at it whenever we want, learn whatever we want, and fancy ourselves experts on whatever we want.
Perhaps nowhere is this more dangerous than in the field of medicine. It has become entirely too easy to self-diagnose and self-medicate, not to mention self-terrify. Not only are there places to select the symptoms you have, only to be presented with a list of all the possible diseases that could have led you to this point, a whole host of websites have cropped up with every illness thus far known to man, a compendium of symptoms of the most common to the rarest, most vile illnesses imaginable. Just searching “rash” can make you think you or your loved ones have a serious autoimmune disorder that’s likely cut your lifespan in half. Here’s a few tips on preventing at least one disorder: a severe case of hypochondria.
Be smart or stay away.
Never has it been more important to be intelligent about the information you’re given. If you have one out of ten of the given symptoms for something, use your common sense. A zit in a weird place probably doesn’t mean you have a staph infection. If you really and truly do have a case of hypochondria, that’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it might be wise to stay away from websites that let you self-diagnose. If you aren’t a hypochondriac, pay attention to warning signs. If you’ve noticed that you suspect you’re getting sick and more and more frequently, perhaps it’s time to put away the mouse.
Read all the facts.
Make sure to get all of the information about whatever disorder you think you have, not just the scary parts. Look at things like risk factors, affected populations, and how often the disease pops up. Some of the most frightening diseases are extremely rare and confined to a specific geographic location. For example, unless you’ve been traveling to specific tropical areas in the past few weeks, the chances that your vomiting means you’ve developed yellow fever are slim to none. If you’re going to get informed, get completely informed.
Don’t jump to any rash conclusions.
People who are prone to worry are more likely to expect the worst from what they read. If you (or your child or other loved ones) are generally healthy, then the chances are pretty good that a short-lived stomachache is just from eating something that didn’t agree with you and not a burst appendix. Add up all the symptoms, lack of symptoms, likelihood that you could actually have something serious, and potential seriousness of whatever it is you think you have. Consider your activities over the past few days. Was your chicken dinner a little suspect? If the ache isn’t extreme, you’re probably going to be okay.
Get a second opinion.
Just because you’ve read every article on West Nile Virus doesn’t make you a doctor. When irrational fears start arising, ask someone close to you to listen to your symptoms and to look at the information on the illness. If it’s totally outlandish, chances are they’ll know how to calm you down. If you’re still worried after that, call your doctor before heading off to the emergency room to drop thousands of dollars for an ER physician to tell you it’s just heartburn.