Who hasn't consulted Dr. Google from time to time? By "time to time," of course, I mean after each and every minor ache, sniffle, or twitch that goes on a split second too long. The internet can (and frequently does) turn anyone into a hypochondriac, which is why it's important to figure out when not to self-diagnose. Otherwise, you end up calling your mom at 3 a.m. to wish a tearful goodbye before the cancer leaves you dead by morning — only for doctors to tell you, six hours later, that you had a simple dehydration headache, not a brain tumor.
Or maybe that's just me. Either way, cyberchondria is a real, albeit thoroughly modern, problem. According to a 2015 report, most people Google their symptoms before going to the doctor or even talking to a friend or family member, and one in five people diagnosed themselves with a condition instead of going to the doctor. Although the sheer amount of medical information available online can be useful as a supplement to actual medical care, it can lead to unnecessary anxiety about your health. Unless you have stellar medical care, any subsequent testing may cost a pretty penny, too.
Self-diagnosis may be tempting, but in the end, wouldn't you rather rely on someone with a medical degree than the cold algorithms of a search engine? Here are six times when it's better to get yourself to the doctor than consult the Internet.
1. Abdominal Pain
It's easy enough to tell when your arm is broken, and you might even be able to figure out that your back is sore because of the way you sit in your office chair. Abdominal pain, however, is a tricky thing. Its causes range from the harmless, like constipation or gas, to more serious conditions, and you may require testing to see what's going on. Just in case, head to a doctor to get it checked out.
2. Possible STDs
There's little as terrifying as finding some discharge, lump, sore, or other unexpected terrain in your southern territories, so to speak. Fortunately, sexually transmitted infections are easy to diagnose... if you get tested. Don't rely on Google to convince you that you have chlamydia or herpes, sparking a series of awkward phone calls to your exes. Get to the doctor and put your mind at rest as quickly as possible.
Sometimes, especially when during finals week or a stressful time at work, you may get so tired you wonder if you have a disorder. Although Chronic Fatigue Syndrome does exist, it's difficult to diagnose and extremely rare. The causes of exhaustion can range from anemia to nightmares, and it takes a medical professional to narrow things down. If you're totally against heading to the doctor, try getting a week of good rest, and see how you feel after that.
I hate to break it to you, but headaches are super common. In fact, the World Health Organization writes that nearly everyone gets one occasionally, and at least one in seven adults experience migraines across the world. Unfortunately, this means they're listed as a symptom of dozens of illnesses. Usually, headaches don't require any medical attention, and they'll go away on their own. Even if they persist, they could have all kinds of causes — don't immediately assume you're doomed to a life of agonizing cluster headaches. Try to notice any patterns in the pain, and bring that up when you see a doctor.
5. Mental Health
Everyone loves a good personality quiz. How else are you supposed to know what modern city you would live in if you were a Disney princess? These quizzes have an enduring appeal, but they're no basis for legitimate diagnoses, no matter what they claim.
Psychologists have an entire book, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, dedicated to diagnosing and treating mental illnesses, many of which hinge on the severity of your symptoms. Everyone gets anxious; not everyone has an anxiety disorder. If you're worried you have a problem, see a doctor.
6. That Moment You're Sure You're Dying
Above all, try to have some perspective. The internet can be incredibly useful to learn more about an illness after you've been diagnosed, and research has found that symptom checkers are about as accurate as telephone triage. The world wide web is great when you want to know what kinds of headaches exist or the difference between bronchitis and pneumonia, but Dr. Google is no replacement for the experience of an actual person with an M.D.
So next time you're under the weather or a mole unexpectedly changes shape, don't rely on the internet for a diagnosis. Google your symptoms all you want, but if you're really worried, get thee to a doctor. Poking and prodding is worth the peace of mind.