A lot of info can be more dangerous

by Symptom Advice on March 12, 2012

Popular Today by Zoe Abel  Posted: 2:00 AM March 12, 2012

They say a little information is a dangerous thing. well these days, when many people have home computers, smartphones, tablets and cable TV, who ever actually has just a little information? for me, a lot of information can be a dangerous thing.

In general I’m not a very suspicious person. I believe that the white stuff coming from behind an airplane is simply some form of jet exhaust; I think that people really have walked on the moon rather than simply being filmed in slow motion in some rocky field of Idaho; and I am perfectly convinced that a single person assassinated JFK in 1963.

But I am guilty of using the Internet as my primary care physician. Every symptom of a runny nose, sore knee or itchy red rash is entered into Google, and I anxiously wade through the search results the way most people await lab results. I try not to believe the worst, but I have a hard time accepting the best. My headache is probably not a brain aneurism, but it couldn’t be just a stress headache either, right? I usually settle on a diagnosis somewhere in the middle, such as “migraine,” and put myself back to bed with a cup of tea and a Tylenol.

Just like the way a slot machine in Las Vegas will reel you in, and make you keep playing the game with an occasional win, my Internet-based self-diagnosis keeps me interested by occasionally proving to be right. I have diagnosed myself with shin splints and thrush, and my doctor actually validated this.

On the other hand I have also thought I was having a stroke (turned out that one actually was a migraine), and pancreatitis (nope, just gas pain).

I once called my doctor’s office fresh off a new self-inflicted WebMD diagnosis. As I prattled off to the secretary the various medications, lab tests and time off work I would require, she gently interrupted and said, “This is Zoe, isn’t it?”

I’d like to think that my doctor’s office has caller ID rather than thinking that I’m their only patient in the habit of doing this.

With the availability of the Internet, I think that most people are at risk of developing some form of medical students’ disease (though I have to say, I based this self-diagnosis off of Internet research, rather than a doctor appointment). Medical students’ disease is a type of hypochondriasis, where medical students believe that they are experiencing the symptoms of whichever disease they are currently studying.

I graduated from nursing school a couple years ago, and certainly I started diagnosing not only myself, but everyone around me, as we went through studying the diseases of the various body systems.

Now, as a nurse working in a hospital, I rarely diagnosis myself with the diseases and conditions of my patients. Sure, there are those occasional moments while running on the treadmill that I’ll feel a twinge of pain and think, “is this the beginning of an injury that will only end with a total knee replacement surgery?” but mostly I am able to give thanks for my good health, and have a good reason to get my season flu vaccine every year.

So aside from an occasional foray into the world of skin funguses, joint sprains, and sinus infections, I really do try my hardest to leave the diagnosing up to my doctor. Except there’s this one message board online that really seems to have such good information, and the people there — whom I’ve never met or been able to verify the credentials of — seem too excellently well-informed … .

Like a Vegas slot machine, sometimes it’s just hard to stay away.

Zoe Abel probably needs her doctor to come over and set some “parental controls” on her computer. meanwhile, you can contact her at DailyZoe@gmail.com.

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