Ever wonder what John Stamos’ middle name is? (It’s Phillip.) Or what’s the distance between Earth and the sun? (It’s 92.96 million miles.)
Answers to virtually any question can be found on the internet — making trivia nights everywhere infinitely more competitive. But what happens when you aren’t feeling your best and need advice about your health? Is it safe to diagnose yourself based on information found online?
“It’s a good idea to use search engines to supplement your knowledge about a diagnosis or prescription,” he says. “But ultimately, health care decisions should be a conversation between you and your doctor.”
Dr. Levinson recommends using the internet to research your health concerns and prepare a list of questions to ask your doctor. “This is a great way to start a conversation; however, it’s very important to speak with a medical professional before making your own diagnosis,” he says.
A website does not take into account your medical history the way your primary care doctor will. “When doctors diagnose a patient, we consider that patient’s unique situation, including risk factors and lifestyle choices. A website just can’t provide that kind of care,” Dr. Levinson says.
Additionally, there’s a good chance you will cause yourself unnecessary angst by overestimating the severity of your condition.
If you experience the following situations, skip the internet completely and seek immediate medical attention.
- Severe abdominal pain
- Significant head injury
- Sudden or severe headaches
- Difficulty breathing
- Any kind of assault including sexual assault
- Loss of consciousness
- Severe mental health emergencies
- Suspected stroke (face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty, confusion)
- Suspected heart attack (chest pain or pressure; pain in the arm, back, neck or jaw; shortness of breath; nausea; sweating)
Before researching other health concerns, be aware that there is a lot of misleading information floating around cyberspace. Here are a few tips for finding reliable health information online:
- Research the original source to make sure the information is coming from reputable organizations, such as the Mayo Clinic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
- Avoid online forums where well-meaning strangers share non-medical opinions and anecdotes.
- Avoid information from “sponsored content” or advertisements.
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Gary Levinson about self-diagnosis for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.