Most of us have done it; “googled” symptoms, it can be a dangerous practice, but you are not alone, even professionals do it from time to time.
In nursing school, as we were studying and learning all about diseases, we usually started diagnosing ourselves. Before graduation, we were sure that we had at least a handful of diseases we didn’t have when we started. I was undoubtedly sitting in class listing all the symptoms of the different diseases that matched my issues. Had I continued in this way I would have diagnosed myself dead by now.
The internet probably would have come in handy when I was a child. You see, I was that 1% patient, the rare case, that 1 in 100,000 whose body never followed the medical books. Maybe that is why I can empathize with patients who have unexpected symptoms or strange responses to medications. I tell my patients all the time that our bodies don’t read the books. Just because your symptoms don’t match up with the research or the pill bottle descriptions, it doesn’t make them any less real.
The problem is that most symptoms are vague and fit multiple diseases; some are easily curable and others not so much (or at least not as obvious). I use medical apps on my phone with patients because there is no way to know every medication, side effect, or treatment option. The World of Medicine is constantly changing, and as providers, we are continually learning and sharing our information. Without knowing where to search, you can spend days, weeks, or even months sifting through the diseases, medications, and treatment options. There is a time to use the internet to help find the cause of a disease, a cure, or others with similar illnesses who have successfully treated them; it’s just not every time.
Believe it or not, diagnosing is not a guessing game, though sometimes it may appear this way. It is more like being a detective, a medical detective, and there is an art to it. Much like a scientist, or detective, providers have a process, and sometimes it does take more time than we would like. Not all providers go through the same process either. I know as a patient this can be frustrating; not knowing why you feel bad or how to fix it wears on the whole body and mind.
So how do we use the most informative tool in history to help in illness, diagnosis, and treatments? Just ask your provider which websites he/she recommends. Providers use many different sites based on practices and illnesses (some may not recommend you search, but instead come to them, and that is okay).
I don’t give all my patients the same information just like I don’t give them all the same treatments. However, I do offer many of my patients’ recommendations on websites, books, and documentaries I feel might help them with their health goals. Some of them I recommend so they can see others who have successfully treated the same illnesses and that they are not alone in their journey. If you do go searching, be thorough, use reliable sources, and discuss your findings with your provider. They may be able to help guide you further. It is about each individual, their process, understanding, medications, and their chronic conditions. Something used for one person can be dangerous (even deadly) to another.
How can we, the patients and providers, work together to find the answers?
- Keep a diary of the symptoms and list all of them individually; when they started; are they continuous or do they go away and come back (we refer to this as intermittent).
- Write down any remedies you have tried, medications, vitamins, alternative therapies, and whether they’re successful. Lastly, include any online research, or reading you completed about the problem and what you think.
- Bring all this information with you when you come to your appointment, that way you and your provider can discuss these problems on a scientific basis. Also, it shows your provider you didn’t just “Dr. Google” yourself, but that you are actively participating in your health (not all patients do).
If for some reason this approach does not work for you or your provider, you can contact me for help.