This is What Happens When You Search Your Symptoms Online
Have you ever experienced a symptom that you’ve never really dealt with before, and just a few minutes later, find yourself Googling it on your phone? There’s a good chance you have. In fact, according to news channel WECT, “A recent study (2019) by eligibility.com found 89 percent of patients nationwide Google their health symptoms before going to their doctor.” You’d be surprised about the negative consequences you might experience when you search your symptoms online.
Here’s a quick story for you about a time when I used Dr. Youtube (shocking, I know!) to fix an issue with my son’s shoulder:
So I got a call last week from my son’s daycare that he had fallen while running on the playground and complained of his elbow hurting. With a concerned voice, his teacher explained that he wasn’t using the arm and that he was in a good deal of pain.
Listening to the story, I had a good idea of what was wrong. A couple of years back, he took a spill and subluxated (partially dislocated) his elbow, causing a “Nursemaid’s elbow.”
It is a widespread injury among toddlers, especially rambunctious ones like my son. The last time this happened, we went to the pediatrician to fix the elbow and learned how a simple maneuver could reduce the elbow pain quickly and bring near-instant relief.
Once I arrived at the daycare, I found the poor guy sitting, holding his arm. I did a quick exam, poked around, and determined that he had likely, once again, subluxated his elbow. My wife is in healthcare, so we gave her a call, and she joined us at home to take a look and confirm.
After getting the ok from my wife to fix his elbow, I decided to make sure what I thought in my head was the correct technique and visited YouTube for a quick review.
I was blown away by the numerous videos on how to fix this issue. I finally found a quality video to watch, which confirmed what I had remembered was the correct technique.
Confident I had the correct technique in mind, we sat my son in my wife’s lap, and with a gentle twist and bend of the elbow, I felt the click I was hoping for and problem solved. He confirmed the shoulder issue was fixed by touching his nose using his “sore arm.”
Ok, I got lucky. With my medical training, I had a good idea of what to do and what to look for. I just needed a quick refresher.
Searching your symptoms online can be overwhelming
For the average person, though, searching for medical advice can be very overwhelming. You have likely scrolled YouTube and Google looking for help to ease pain or an injury.
It’s so easy in this day and age to whip out your phone or tablet and search for something online instead of having to schedule a doctor’s appointment. You don’t have to wait for results, either — the information is all right there in the palm of your hand, within seconds.
However, by turning to search engines instead of medical professionals, you might be putting yourself in a tough spot. Have you ever Googled a symptom, only to find yourself reading about worst-case scenarios and disturbing information? I bet your anxiety shot through the roof.
It’s even more confusing on who to trust online these days, too. Especially since much of the information you may be reading could or could not be from medical professionals or even established, trusted sources. If you lean on the cynical side, you may even turn to forums to read about other people’s real-life experiences with their symptoms instead of reading information from, say, the Mayo Clinic or Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
With information available at our fingertips, it can be challenging to know what to trust. We’re dealing with “information overload,” which means all this information that we’re finding may even be conflicting, leading to more confusion.
Here is why you’ll want to stop looking up your symptoms online
Reason #1: Every situation is different for each person
Frequently I hear from my patients that their first attempt to fix a sore shoulder or stiff back was a search on the internet. A few folks report they found short-term relief, but most tell me that it just aggravated their pain more.
You see, our bodies are complex machines. And complex things need and deserve a trained eye to evaluate and fix their problems.
By turning to a medical expert, you can rest assured that they will ask the right questions and learn more about your medical history to understand just what kind of treatment you may need. This might be asking your questions about any current medications, if you have undergone any surgeries, are currently dealing with any injuries, and more. This allows a provider to identify what might be wrong based on this information unique to you and can help recommend a treatment that will work FOR YOU and your personal needs and restrictions.
Reason #2: When you search your symptoms online, you’ll start thinking about worst-case scenarios
You can use Google searches for symptoms as a starting point. You might feel a sharp pain in your neck and want to understand what kind of things might be causing it, such as muscle tension and strain, injury, heart attack, meningitis, and so much more. Something as simple as poor posture can be causing your neck pain.
On the other hand, there are several different causes of neck pain, including conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, and tumors or even cancer of the spine.
I bet you felt a little anxious while reading that last line of reasons why you might be feeling neck pain. Now you might be wondering, could it be cancer?
This is what you are doing to yourself when you search for your symptoms online. Instead of going to a medical professional who can help rule out and talk through the different reasons you might be feeling a type of pain, you are trying to figure it out yourself. You don’t have the information or resources available that you need. You have so much information that it’s overwhelming, frustrating, and sometimes just downright scary.
Here’s the moral of the story: Go to your doctor or another provider. Trust in a professional. They can talk you down and help you decide what testing and treatment make sense for you given your symptoms without you jumping to the worst-case scenario.
It’s what we do; according to the Harvard Business Review, “Catastrophizing is a common reaction to uncertain situations where we tend to overestimate the likelihood or consequences of our worst fears. It’s prevalent among young adults between the ages of 18 and 35 because the part of the brain that deals with uncertainties is still developing during this time in our lives.”
Use Google as a starting point to educate yourself about the basics, and then turn to a trusted medical professional.
Navigating the landscape of a new kind of acute or chronic pain can be nerve-wracking.
Are you struggling with a nagging backache, and the “Quick Fix’ video on YouTube seemed to make it worse?
Did the internet lead you down the wrong path with your shoulder pain?
If this sounds like you, then we invite you to schedule a risk-free consultation with us. We are here to give you expert advice and learn if we are the best solution to get back to the active, pain-free lifestyle you desire.
Click here to schedule your Free Consultation, or give us a call at 512-659-5615! Let’s work together to find a way to reduce your pain (without all the anxiety of Google searches!).