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The Dangers of Self-Diagnosis

If you're not feeling like yourself, you may be tempted to do a quick online search of your symptoms.

People today have access to all kinds of information online on their smartphones, iPads, or at the click of a mouse. As Newschannel 20's Esther Kwon reports more and more people are using the internet to diagnose their own health issues, and doctors say it could be dangerous.

How many times have we all been sick and hopped on Google to figure out what could be wrong? Just to test it out, I searched, 'why am I so tired lately?'

Some of the top results are articles or blogs talking about chronic fatigue problems, anemia, or thyroid problems. Doctors say a self-diagnosis could do you more harm than good.

"It can lead to undue anxiety or agonizing about what their condition is," said Dr. Purvi Bhandari, M.D., a Pediatrician at Springfield Clinic. "And that actually has a lot of effects."

It's called cyberchondria, and it's when you search the web excessively about your symptoms, and then develop anxiety or get overly concerned that you have a serious illness after comparing your symptoms to others.

"Something as simple as a rash, for example, because a lot of rashes look similar," Dr. Bhandari said. "But I'll tell you, a rash from a drug interaction can look very similar to a viral exanthem, can look very similar to a contact dermatitis."

Some medical conditions can have vague symptoms and give you more to worry about, like hypothyroidism.

"Hypothyroidism can cause people to feel fatigued, they could gain weight, they could have brain fog," Consumer Reports Health Editor Julia Calderone said. "But plenty of people with those symptoms may have a perfectly functioning thyroid."

However, these self-diagnoses aren't just for adults. Doctors say parents diagnose their children based off of what they find online, too. "When we read things online, it's about a specific child. Every child is different based on their past medical history, their current exam, their current state but then also the types of illnesses that they've had," Dr. Bhandari said. "So...you can't very readily compare your child to another child."

Dr. Bhandari says whether you're self-diagnosing or diagnosing your child, it's important to know that just because a certain blog or website is popular doesn't mean it's legitimate.

"There is no monitoring of the accuracy of these sites," Dr. Bhandari said. "So, people are getting inconsistent, inaccurate information and may be either misdiagnosing or under-diagnosing, doing a treatment that's not appropriate."

She says what is appropriate is using the internet as a tool to learn more, but it shouldn't be the only thing you do.

"I don't want to belittle the fact that they've noticed something," Dr. Bhandari said. "I actually welcome the idea that they've looked it up, got some questions. We're going to be placing those symptoms that you have discovered in the context of your current exam, the way your past medical history has been, your family history, your social history."

Doctors say instead of using a search engine and looking through random sites, you can use a site like MedlinePlus that is trusted by physicians and edited by those who actually work in the medical field.

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