Don’t trust Dr Google: he misses deadly symptoms
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.