Stop Playing Doctor: Why Self-Diagnosis Is Dangerous
With the advent of accessible internet connections that are cheap and powerful, and a wealth of information provided by professional in their respective fields, almost anyone can study a subject and become proficient at it without much trouble. Do you want to learn how to code? There are hundreds of courses for that—and they’re free! Want to learn how to cook African food? There are YouTube channels and recipe websites that will tell you every intricate detail. Wanna learn how to paint? There’s stuff for that too!
The internet has a wealth of information that is largely contributed by people just like you, but there comes a point when there is simply too much information on the internet and it can be hard to discern fact from fiction.
Too Much Information
However, very few people understand the risks of having too much information readily available. It’s not so much the fact that it’s accessible that’s the problem—it’s how easy it is to change that information. Take Wikipedia for example. It’s an online encyclopaedia that is regularly used by almost everyone that uses the internet. We use it to research things, we use it to find information, and we even use it just for entertainment. However, such so much knowledge in a single place, who’s there to regulate it?
You. Everyone has the ability to change and edit Wikipedia information. If someone feels off, you can report it, but Wikipedia is essentially a publicly owned and curated encyclopedia, and that opens it up to a lot of abuse depending on how people use it. What this essentially means is that there is a very real chance that there is incorrect information, and if one article in an encyclopedia is off, then that means it’s possible that everything inside of it is wrong.
Thankfully, there are many vigilant communities on the internet that want to stop the abuse of free resources like this, but it doesn’t prevent people from going on Wikipedia and learning about false information. However, that’s sadly how the internet works. There are very few credible sources and almost anything can and could be changed for malicious reasons or just by accident.
Enter self-diagnosis. Because there is so much information on the internet, there would eventually be enough resources and accessible information that we could self-diagnose our medical problems. With websites like WebMD and Patient.info, that has become a reality. You can easily log on to these websites, input your symptoms and they will spit out a bunch of different illnesses or diseases that you might have. You can refine the search and add detailed symptoms, but the accuracy will always be questionable.
Before you run off to those websites and start looking up your symptoms, you have to understand that your cough could be anything from a temporary cough because you inhaled some dust to lung cancer. Let’s make that clear first. However, the chances of it actually being something serious are probably extremely low. This is the first issue of playing doctor—the psychology of it.
When you try to diagnose your own problems, you are essentially assuming that you know as much information as a doctor who has studied medicine and biology for the majority of their life. It’s extremely dangerous when you take these self-diagnosis results and start to take matters into your own hands by taking medication or changing your diet to fit something that the websites told you. Not only can taking random medicine be dangerous, but it could aggravate your symptoms and create whole new issues that weren’t there before.
Self-diagnosis is a vicious circle that can only be broken once you realize that you are not a professional. You are not a doctor, those websites aren’t doctors, and you can never get the same help as you would in a hospital by visiting a website that everyone has access to. Think of it this way: if you were cutting your hair or putting on your makeup, it would be almost impossible to do so by just feeling around your face and head. That’s why we use mirrors to give ourselves another view of our body. A doctor represents the mirror—another view of your symptoms and issues. A doctor can utilize their experience and expertise and give you a proper diagnosis.
Knowing When to Seek Help
Self-diagnosis can be useful, there’s no denying that. You could look up your symptoms such as “back pain” or “chesty cough” on the internet and, assuming you take the results with a grain of salt, you can potentially stave off bigger issues and prevent problems happening before they can grow to be problematic. However, if you have multiple successes like this, it can be easy to assume that you don’t need a doctor.
This is extremely dangerous, as growing overconfident with your self-diagnosis could prevent you from seeing real issues about your health. It’s always a good idea to seek the help of a doctor when you have serious symptoms of repeated problems that keep coming back because chances are they will grow into something much more problematic in the future like a nasty disease or even cancer.
There are other types of help you can get as well. For instance, let’s say you self-diagnose your cough. You search up your symptoms, and there are a variety of things it could be. However, you find that your cough could be mesothelioma—a type of cancer that is often the result of exposure to asbestos. That would seem unlikely for many people, however, if you do work in construction or in an office then it might be a cause for concern. Not only should you contact your doctor, but you should also speak with a mesothelioma lawyer to see what your options regarding compensation and lawsuits are.
This is just one example of how self-diagnosis can be helpful, but it still requires the professional opinion of a doctor. Just because you work in an office or work on a construction site, that doesn’t mean you are susceptible to mesothelioma. You could come to this conclusion because it seems logical, but that might just prove to be more trouble that will make you depressed, upset and confused at what to do. Speaking with a doctor is always the best course of action because they can provide a proper diagnosis by testing you correctly and analyzing your health.
It Makes It Harder for a Doctor to Do Their Job
If there’s one thing a doctor will complain about, it’s that their patients are becoming increasingly complacent and acting as know-it-alls thanks to the internet. If you are the type that will walk into a doctor’s office and complain or get worried about your symptoms despite your doctor telling you to calm down, then you should take a deep breath and stop.
Not only do you make it harder for a doctor to do their job, you are likely going to exaggerate your symptoms as a result of self-diagnosis. For example, “pain in your abdomen” could mean it’s just a prick in your abdomen or a little pain. But you could interpret that as “sharp painful sensations in your stomach” which is much more worrying symptom. You need to answer the doctor’s questions truthfully and clear your mind of any prior knowledge that you think you have.
Never talk back to a doctor regarding your symptoms. If you believe that your doctor is missing details or not taking care of your health properly, you can try to switch your doctor or ask them politely to double check. Unfortunately, there is a very thin line between taking care of your body and asking questions and full-on hypochondria.
Hypochondria is a serious condition that essentially means health anxiety. It is the excessive worrying about health to a point that it causes a lot of distress and affects your daily life. Hypochondria is a medical condition on its own and has to be treated separately. If you approach a doctor with a lot of worries and a lot of research, the doctor has reason to believe that you might be suffering from hypochondria and will treat you differently. Instead of fixating on your actual health issues, the doctor might focus more on treating your health anxiety, wasting both your time and theirs and increasing the time it takes for you to make a recovery.
As explained, self-diagnosis can cause a lot of problems, so it’s important to always consult a doctor about any medical issues or problems you have. Although looking up symptoms online is a good way to improve our overall health, it is by no means a replacement for professional help.
Even worse, constant self-diagnosis could lead to other problems such as health anxiety, or taking matters into your own hands and trying to treat yourself, only to end up complicating problems and making it worse on your body. Do not, under any circumstances, take pills, supplements, medication, or go on an extreme diet without consent from your doctor. They are paid to look after your health, so let them do so and stop trying to play doctor!