Don’t trust Dr Google: he misses deadly symp­toms

Daily Mail - - DR MAX -

THE in­ter­net is fu­elling a new range of men­tal health prob­lems, in­clud­ing ad­dic­tion to on­line gam­bling and pornog­ra­phy — and a con­di­tion known as cy­ber­chon­dria, sci­en­tists an­nounced this week.

Cy­ber­chon­dria is the on­line equiv­a­lent of hypochon­dria. It de­scribes the com­pul­sive use of the web to seek re­as­sur­ance about one’s health, but which results in high anx­i­ety when so many ter­ri­fy­ing con­di­tions seem to fit your symp­toms.

Ev­ery medic I know has ex­pe­ri­ence of pa­tients who ar­rive wav­ing a sheaf of print-outs af­ter con­sult­ing ‘Dr Google’, and self-di­ag­nos­ing some­thing rare and prob­a­bly fa­tal. Usu­ally, it’s just a throat in­fec­tion, not the bubonic plague.

But while a re­liance on Dr Google can lead to peo­ple wor­ry­ing un­nec­es­sar­ily, some­times the op­po­site is the case. I had one pa­tient who came into A&E af­ter feel­ing faint at work.

‘I know what’s wrong, Doc­tor,’ she said. ‘I’ve got glan­du­lar fever. I know I’ve just got to wait un­til I get over it my­self.’

She was cor­rect, but I or­dered blood tests and a chest X-ray any­way. An hour later, af­ter look­ing at the blood results and the X-ray, I knew some­thing wasn’t right. When I asked her what her GP had told her about glan­du­lar fever, she said she hadn’t both­ered with him for years. She’d self­di­ag­nosed af­ter a bit of on­line re­search.

Un­for­tu­nately, she’d ig­nored the symp­toms that didn’t fit her own di­ag­no­sis, like the chronic cough and weight loss. My pa­tient ac­tu­ally had TB and was in dire need of treat­ment. We also had to trace all her con­tacts and test them, too.

It was a salu­tary les­son in the fail­ings of Dr Google.

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