The Internet is a treasure trove of information, and a simple search can provide answers to many problems. These days, more and more people are turning to the Internet for medical advice, with sites like WebMD providing information about a staggering number of diseases and problems.
These tools can be invaluable for providing you with the basic information you need to be an informed patient at your next doctor’s visit, but they’re not meant to replace a doctor’s opinion — and when you develop symptoms of a potential medical problem, you should always rely on the expertise of a medical professional rather than attempting to self-diagnose on the Internet.
Everyone has probably done this at one time or another: You experience a few unfamiliar symptoms and turn to the Internet for answers. A brief search returns a baffling variety of explanations, ranging from the common cold to brain cancer and rare genetic disorders. Faced with these sudden possibilities, it’s far too easy to convince yourself that you have something rare and exotic — or that your alarming symptoms are really no big deal.
In truth, no Internet diagnosis can ever be as accurate as the one you obtain from a physician. There are many reasons for this:
Myriad diseases often present with similar symptoms. Many of the symptoms you associate with illness, from skin rashes to a runny nose, are simply your body’s immune response to a pathogen and not unique to the pathogen itself.
Blood tests and other diagnostic procedures must be performed to identify the underlying cause. The Internet cannot run a full blood panel or urine test. These diagnostic tests exist specifically to identify the cause of your symptoms, and without them, appropriate treatment often cannot be administered.
Every patient is an individual. Your unique body chemistry, medical history, medication use and more can affect the symptoms you experience and your risk factors for various illnesses.
Doctors receive years of schooling and practical experience because the human body is complex. Trust your doctor’s expertise and use the information you find online as a reference or place to begin asking questions, not as a diagnostic tool!
Think You Have an STI?
Turning to the Internet for help with a potential sexually transmitted infection is especially tempting because many people are embarrassed at the possibility of having an STI. However, STIs are often notoriously difficult to accurately diagnose, with many mimicking the symptoms of other conditions or having no initial symptoms at all.
If you have been put at risk of having an STI or HIV, it is ALWAYS better to be tested by a physician than attempt to self-diagnose. You will have greater peace of mind and will be able to share this information confidently with your sex partner(s)