With the available access to dozens if not hundreds of websites and blogs giving medical advice, information about disorders and treatment options, many of us tend to rely on the internet for our medical questions. The average American spends 800 hours a year using the internet on their phones. A significant portion of that time on mobile devices is spent using the internet to look up medical conditions. This may be in an effort to prevent future disease, do research about an existing condition or, in many cases, as users turn to self-diagnosis based on perceived symptoms.
It can be very tempting to believe the information that is so readily available with the click of a mouse and a few clicks on the keyboard. But there are several important questions that anyone should ask themselves before falling into the well of self-diagnosis:
- Where is this information coming from?
- Who is writing it?
- Is it accurate?
- Can it be trusted?
Websites that offer health and medical information may be appropriate in some cases such as “how to stop the itch of a mosquito bite?” or “when should I visit the doctor about my eye sight?” But would you trust the information that you find on the internet to diagnose cancer or a rare genetic disorder?
Self-diagnosis can only go so far when it comes to helping patients recognize and deal with mental health issues or an eating disorder.
Unfortunately, many people assume that the signs and symptoms on popular medical websites like WebMD can tell them the truth of their own bodies and rush headfirst into diagnosing themselves based on a desire to have answers.
However, what if you are missing something?
Of course, there are articles and papers from very world-renowned and highly educated medical professionals and researchers available on the internet. However, in most cases, these articles are more generic in nature, providing overall findings, data and information about the disease, disorder or medical problem. They are not talking to you, about your specific challenges or problems, or your needs.
(When these articles aren’t generic, they tend to be dense texts that are hard to understand.)
There is certainly value in educating yourself and possible self-diagnosis of some minor ailments.
It’s true that sometimes, you can save yourself the time and burden on your pocket from running to the doctor every time you have a splinter or the annoying mosquito bite through research and home remedies. You may even be afraid of doctors and the possibility that there may be something more severe at work.
In some cases, self-diagnosis can spare you the anxiety and in fact, ease the apprehension that the thought of a doctor’s visit causes in many people because it can prepare you to have a conversation with your doctor.
However, when it comes to mental health or eating disorders, simply typing away on your computer may be only the tip of the iceberg.
While being more well-informed and educated about the possible signs and symptoms to look for, it should be just that . . . educational. Information that you find and identify on medical blogs and websites can be useful to provide you with some basic information about a possible diagnosis and a direction to go to from here. It should lay the foundation for your next plan of action rather than a self-prepared treatment plan.
As tempting as it may be to value the opinion and knowledge of an online medical guru, let’s look at the dangers of putting too much faith and trust in the information you find online and self-diagnosis. Ultimately, without a proper diagnosis by trained personnel, you may find yourself not receiving the proper treatment required to get you back to the best of health.
Through self-diagnosis, or in other words, identifying your own medical or mental condition based on symptoms alone, you may miss some of the subtleties associated with the diagnosis process in and of itself. As many disorders may present themselves in similar ways, you may miss or misunderstand how each symptom relates to you and your condition.
For example, you may have mood swings which lead you to assume you have bipolar disorder or manic-depressive disorder. However, many other mental illness disorders may also present themselves with mood swings which vary in severity and duration. You as the patient and non-medical professional may not be fully aware of how the characteristics of your mood swings, along with other symptoms, may be signs of other issues.
The body is a fascinating and complex structure. The signs and symptoms that you may be experiencing and which you identify with a particular mental disorder may in fact be a mask to an underlying medical condition. For example, through self-diagnosis, you may identify that you have severe depression or a personality disorder.
However, after careful examination by a medical professional, your doctors could discover that you in fact have a brain tumor causing your personality changes or mental incapacity.
In the case of some mental disorders, self-evaluation may in fact be the problem. You may be blinded by the fact that there is something wrong with you, a physical defect, or a negative self-image. This will cause you to automatically project a diagnosis that may only be a small component of the overall diagnosis. Even if using a mirror, you cannot see yourself in your entirety and determine the reasons and causes which lie beneath the surface.
Only a trained professional will be able to understand the real root cause of the symptom and provide a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
Self-diagnosis of any condition can also cause additional anxiety and worry. If you have a mild headache, possibly from dehydration, you could come to the conclusion from your research that you have a terminal brain tumor. This self-diagnosis then causes you to overreact, be consumed by and possibly cause other symptoms and ailments to arise from your own diagnosis.
However, through a simple home remedy of rehydration and Ibuprofen, you may be good as new tomorrow. This tendency to overreact will also cause you to include symptoms that may be unrelated, making your possible disorder larger than it really is. Your headache, combined with insomnia and lack of appetite may lead you to believe that you have a brain tumor, depression, AND an eating disorder when one diagnosis could be the cause of all of these symptoms. Only a trained professional would be able to connect the dots and clear up the fog.
In evaluating your symptoms, you may also minimize the value or importance of a particular problem. Look at a person suffering from heartburn, assuming it was simply the result of overeating, who later experienced a major heart attack. He or she may have ignored the signs as unimportant or normal and through self-diagnosis, chose not to seek medical attention. The same may be said for mental health or eating disorders.
People have a tendency to be in denial about the symptoms that could be a sign of a much larger, more severe issue. This could also be true of parents, loved ones and friends of someone suffering from a mental disorder or illness.
According to her parents, Karen may appear to simply be losing weight for the upcoming event, exercising often and watching what she eats. However, she may in fact be suffering from an eating disorder, which if undiagnosed and properly treated, could lead to organ failure and possibly death. Both Karen and her parents are in denial that there could be anything else going on such as a mental health disorder causing Karen to be overly self-conscious of her weight, her appearance, and self-image.
Lastly, there are many symptoms and signs of mental or eating disorders which simply are not detectable.
A person suffering from a delusional disorder may not even realize that they are delusional. They may be experiencing a breakdown or are paranoid and may self-diagnose themselves as having anxiety or depression. In many cases, they don’t know that anything is wrong at all, feeling completely “normal” in their own mind. Any self-diagnosis would be completely incorrect, leading to incorrect treatment or no treatment at all.
While being conscious of your body, your mental state and any changes you notice is important, self-diagnosis should not be the end-all conclusion to your treatment plan. It can be very helpful to a clinician or medical professional if you have done some research and become informed about certain possibilities.
However, it can also be a hindrance to your doctor in your diagnosis and treatment if you have it set in your mind that you have a brain tumor when in fact, you are suffering from depression.
Let’s go back to some of our initial questions about self-diagnosis and the information available on the internet. While the world wide web contains a plethora of information and research, it is critical that you are also conscious of the source of information. Self-diagnosis may be sent awry if the foundation for the information is not from a reputable, professional source.
You would not consider giving a baker the responsibility of changing the oil in your car. You probably would not give the plumber the important task of your child’s annual physical. Why would you rely on the information you find through a Google search to dictate the status of your health and the treatment you receive.
Why would you trust information about your mental and physical health to just anyone?
Finally, inaccurate information or a self-diagnosis disaster may lead people to try varying treatment plans.
In some cases, symptoms could get worse or cause others to surface because of a failed self-diagnosis. For example, if you are suffering from headaches and have self-diagnosed your symptoms to be from migraines, you may try over the counter medications, changing your diet or meditation. However, your symptom of headaches may be a sign of a more severe issue such as a brain tumor. Unfortunately, no change in diet or over the counter medication will properly address the underlying issue. The same is true for the underlying issue of a mental or eating disorder.
You may think that your partner is simply a picky eater according to your online search, so you try to encourage him to eat by offering different types of foods, allowing him to eat when he wants to and even skipping meals. In fact, his “pickiness” may be a sign of an underlying eating disorder that left untreated, may become serious and life-threatening.
Many times, once convinced to seek medical treatment, patients will embellish or minimize symptoms to fit what they have self-diagnosed to be the problem. Unfortunately, self-diagnosed disorders lead professionals down the wrong path for care and treatment. In order to properly diagnose a patient’s condition, it is important that they receive all of the information.
Full disclosure of all of the known symptoms and even some of the lesser known symptoms will give a trained professional the appropriate information to diagnose the problem, determine the root cause and to formulate a plan for treatment. A clinician will not only use the information that the patient provides but will also know the right questions to ask and the signs to look for that a patient or loved one may not even realize are significant.
Along these same lines, consider how the police engage a witness to a crime. Although the witness may be able to provide some details, a police officer will know the right questions to ask the witness and obtain information that the witness may not have thought to be of any significance or importance.
A well-trained medical professional will also know the right questions to ask you in order to develop a complete picture of the issues at hand, to ensure an accurate diagnosis and therefore, proper avenue for guidance and treatment.
While it is crucial to be well-informed and self-evaluation is important, leave the diagnosis and treatment plan to the trained clinicians and doctors at The Meadowglade to provide you with the proper and accurate diagnosis of your condition and the best possible route for a speedy recovery or plan to managing your symptoms and disorder. Contact us today to learn more about how our facility can help you!