‘Googling’ your medical symptoms could lead to cyberchondria 35



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When you start feeling unwell, do you immediately ‘Google’ your symptoms and try to work out what’s wrong with you? It could be doing you more harm than good, according to a new study.

Researchers at the Queensland University of Technology, CSIRO and Vienna University of Technology assessed the effectiveness of Google and Bing for medical-based searches. They found that major internet search engines are providing irrelevant medical information that could lead to wrong self-diagnosis, self-treatment and ultimately possible harm.

Dr Guido Zuccon from QUT said “people commonly turn to ‘Dr Google’ to self-diagnose illnesses or ailments. But our results revealed only about three of the first 10 results were highly useful for self-diagnosis and only half of the top 10 were somewhat relevant to the self-diagnosis of the medical condition”.

The researchers showed participants medically-accurate images of common conditions like alopecia, jaundice and psoriasis and asked what the participant would search for in an attempt to diagnose it.

For jaundice, queries including “yellow eyes”, “eye illness”, “white part of the eye turned green” were searched for.

“Because on average only three of the first 10 results were highly useful, people either keep searching or they get the wrong advice which can be potentially harmful for someone’s health,” Dr Zuccon said.

He warned it was also possible those seeking to self-diagnose online would experience “cyberchondria” – where subsequent searches could escalate concerns.

“If you don’t get a clear diagnosis after one search you would likely be tempted to keep searching,” Dr Zuccon said.

“So if you had searched for the symptoms of something like a bad head cold, you could end up thinking you had something far more serious, like an issue with the brain.

Dr Zuccon said search engines performed effectively if the name of the illness was already known.

“They are great for providing a wealth of information about illnesses and diseases, so if you search for something like jaundice you’ll have a lot of useful results,” he said.

“But our findings suggest it is not the best option for trying to find out what’s wrong with you”.


Do you go online to ‘Google’ you medical symptoms? How much faith do you put in the internet search engines when you’re trying to self-diagnose a medical problem?

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  1. I think this can be a great tool after a diagnosis to get a better understanding about your condition, but as far as self diagnosis goes I think it could be dangerous as so many conditions have similar symptoms, I’d rather my doctor who knows my history & has the knowledge & experience do the diagnosing.

    1 REPLY
  2. Yes, i do google but usually when i already know diagnosis. Googling can be very useful but you need to have a certain knowledge and experience in it. There are excellent things but rubish too. I always talk and check with my doctor. However, some people really are a bit hypohondric and make up diseases in their mind which they don’t have. But all in all seeking information is not such a bad thing. Wikipidia is good.

  3. I don’t google the illness before I am diagnosed but I do google after my doctor tells me the problem and I google any medication I am given to take.

  4. Doctor have you checked for Lupus, Leprosy and Lyme disease? Next appointment, we’ll start on “M”. Yes, after diagnosis can help.

  5. No. Not the symptoms, but definitely the diagnosis. Symptoms can be so many different things. Not a good idea.

  6. I have done this, but only to see what my symptoms might lead to as I have had bowel cancer. I didn’t get much in the way of diet advice after my operation and so I went hunting for nutrition for bowel cancer patients and that was very useful. If I suspected anything sinister, I would be down at the GP’s surgery quicker than I can blink.

  7. I don’t google symptoms but often Google to find out more about drugs I’ve been prescribed. I also Googled about a diet I am on the Fodmap diet to find out more about it. Also to find exercises to help combat repetition injury.

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