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Doctor Warns People Not To Google Their Symptoms When They're Feeling Unwell

Doctor Warns People Not To Google Their Symptoms When They're Feeling Unwell

Before the age of the internet, if you felt a bit off, you'd probably think nothing of it.

But these days, there is a world of information just a few taps away - and before you know it, you've diagnosed yourself with all manner of conditions. Problem is, most of them aren't anything to do what you may or may not actually be suffering from.

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Now more than ever, as the Covid-19 coronavirus continues to cause concern, people are susceptible to fearing the worst after a cursory search of the web.

Of course, it is better to be safe than sorry, but you should ALWAYS do this by using the NHS' dedicated 111 online coronavirus service or calling 111, rather than Googling aimlessly.

The internet works on algorithms, and you'll simply get directed down an internet maze without any nuance or developed understanding of your actual circumstances.

Indeed, there is an actual condition called cyberchondria, whereby people experience an unfounded escalation in anxiety about their health stemming from researching symptoms online.

Dr Google can cause more harm than good, a doctor has warned. Credit: PA
Dr Google can cause more harm than good, a doctor has warned. Credit: PA
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Dr Daniel Atkinson, clinical lead at Treated.com, said: "Health anxiety, hypochondria, isn't a new problem. It's likely been around for as long as we've known anything about medicine.

"But the internet and readily available access to medical information has, without question, amplified the issue in recent years.

"Cyberchrondria might spur someone on to see a doctor right away, but not always. In some cases it might create a psychological trap where a person is caught between two opposing notions: one, that the symptom is a sign of an illness so serious that the person is too afraid to go to a doctor for help, because they presume the worst; two, that this is an overreaction, and the symptom is nothing and isn't worth wasting a doctor's time with.

"The longer this person doesn't seek help, the more this anxiety can build up. Their rationale might be: 'if I didn't do something about it before, it's probably too late to do something now' and so on."

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In the UK, there were more than 100 million health-related Google searches in the 12 months up to August 2019. However, the results people find are not always reliable.

Dr Atkinson reviewed five of the most commonly searched health concerns and assessed the accuracy of advice featured on the first page of search results.

Worryingly, more than half of the articles reviewed in the study failed to signpost users in the direction of a qualified medical professional, while the majority of advice about how to get rid of stomach aches proved to be inaccurate.

Dr Atkinson reviewed online advice relating to five of the most Googled health questions in the UK. Credit: Treated.com
Dr Atkinson reviewed online advice relating to five of the most Googled health questions in the UK. Credit: Treated.com

Commenting on the results, Dr Atkinson said if people absolutely insist on turning to Google - or any other search engine - for their symptoms, it is important they assess the trustworthiness of the sites they visit.

He said: "It only takes one rogue opinion to plant an idea and induce anxiety. So if you're prone to health anxiety, open access forums where people discuss general, speculative symptoms are best avoided.

"There are some measures you can take to ensure the website you're reading is credible. The NHS Information Standards logo is a good one to look for. This means that the site has been verified by them as a reliable source of medical information."

As for those who are reluctant to potentially waste a GP's time, Dr Atkinson said his peers would much prefer people to get an appointment than put it off (though as previously mentioned, if it is coronavirus you are worried about, you should use the 111 service rather than go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital).

He said: "GPs would prefer patients to come and see them over something which is potentially nothing, rather than put it off and risk not getting treatment they need. There are so many occasions when patients put off seeking help for a problem, when they could have benefited from treatment much earlier.

"So my advice is that you should never be scared to see a doctor if you're concerned about something, whether you've researched it online or not."

It's okay to not panic. LADbible and UNILAD's aim with our Coronavirus campaign, Cutting Through, is to provide our community with facts and stories from the people who are either qualified to comment or have experienced first-hand the situation we're facing. For more information from the World Health Organisation on Coronavirus, click here.

Featured Image Credit: PA

Topics: uk news, Interesting, Health

Jake Massey

Jake Massey is a journalist at LADbible. He graduated from Newcastle University, where he learnt a bit about media and a lot about living without heating. After spending a few years in Australia and New Zealand, Jake secured a role at an obscure radio station in Norwich, inadvertently becoming a real-life Alan Partridge in the process. From there, Jake became a reporter at the Eastern Daily Press. Jake enjoys playing football, listening to music and writing about himself in the third person.