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Caught in the Web
Danger lurks for ‘cyberchondriacs’

Safety ‘net

Armed with the right information, you can be an active part of your healthcare decision making. Ask yourself these questions when perusing a Web site:

  • Who runs the site? Government agencies, medical schools, health-related organizations such as the American Cancer Society and professional organizations like the American Medical Association are good sources. Beware of sites run by companies looking to sell a product.
  • Is the information current? Look at the bottom of the page, where the date of the most recent review is usually posted. Medical information is ever changing, so it’s important to make sure the site is kept up to date.
  • Does the site promise miracles? Be on the lookout for the words “dramatic results” or “secret ingredient” and use of exclamation points.

Just as you suspected, you have appendicitis. Or maybe it’s gallstones. Come to think of it, your abdominal pain could be a case of irritable bowel syndrome. These are all possibilities, according to your Internet search.

While the Web offers a wealth of useful information, it can also lead surfers down the dark path of self-diagnosis. For people who suffer from hypochondria—a disorder in which a person is convinced that minor physical symptoms, such as a cough, are really signs of a more serious condition—the Internet can help fuel their fears.

So, before your start diagnosing yourself, consider these drawbacks:

  • You can misdiagnose yourself. You may think a minor symptom is really something more; on the flip side, you may dismiss your symptoms as minor when, in fact, you could have a condition that requires medical treatment.
  • You may fall into a “quack” trap. Looking for quick relief for your ailment may lead you to seek out questionable cures that haven’t been proved effective or even safe for treatment.
  • You could fall victim to misinformation. For every reliable Web site out there, you may find a dozen more of questionable origin. Some sites may give you false or misleading information about a condition to sell their product.
  • You may be complicating healthcare visits. Your healthcare provider appreciates that you’ve done your homework and can contribute to a meaningful discussion about your health. However, if you demand a cutting-edge procedure that’s only available overseas or a new medication you read about online, you’re not letting your healthcare provider do his or her job.

If you feel that you may suffer from an illness, set up an appointment to discuss it with your healthcare provider. Unlike the Internet, he or she knows your medical history best and has the training to accurately diagnose and treat your condition.

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