Why the Internet can be hazardous to your health

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by Dr. Art Mollen, Special to azfamily.com

GMAZ interview by Kaley O'Kelley

Posted on September 4, 2012 at 10:37 AM

Updated Tuesday, Sep 4 at 10:40 AM

PHOENIX -- Put your hands over your head, step away from the computer and no one will get hurt.

A recent report suggested that 80 percent of Internet users have looked up health information online. That practice can be beneficial in some respects, but the abundance of information online can turn us into hypochondriacs or worse, cause us to neglect getting the medical care that we require.

One thing people like to do online is talk about their health problems, and we like reading about the health issues of others.

You can read about a diagnosis that either makes you scared or calms you, whether it’s correct or not.

Using online symptom checks can help you understand possible diagnoses and find some initial steps for relieving the symptoms. It also helps you determine if you require medical attention.

The Mayo Clinic’s website for symptoms may help.

Physicians are apprehensive when a patient comes to their office with stacks of printouts from the Internet.

If you’re worried about a particular medical situation and did some research to help narrow down what’s ailing you, share that with your physician. Remember, though, knowing how to use the Internet doesn’t make you a doctor.  Google is not a second opinion.

If your ailment doesn’t go away, make a doctor’s appointment.

It is rare that a medical condition can be diagnosed solely by a photograph without a medical history and information about the patient.  A picture is not worth proverbial "thousand words."

Long before the advent of the Internet, we had the telephone.  People would call their medical providers and ask questions.

Medical providers are taught to examine patients, and this requires touching, feeling and poking around in places that may be painful. 

More people are turning to medical websites to determine the nature of their illness and how they can treat it.  Cyberchondria is the new term for people who research and diagnose their illnesses online.  Unfortunately, because the body is a complex organism, medical self-diagnosis can be a dangerous and even deadly.

Some 86 percent of Internet users who have a disease or illness look up information about the disease online.

When self-diagnosing online, always use reputable sites, such as WebMD or Mayo Clinic. Use the information as a general reference.  If an ailment is minor, such as a rash between the toes, try an over-the-counter remedy.  If symptoms persist, see a doctor.

Self-diagnosis offers convenience and financial savings.  Many people want to gain the information to be able to diagnose their own illness.

But self-diagnosis can be dangerous to your health. Individuals with a sore throat might diagnose themselves as having a simple cold when, in fact, the true diagnosis is strep throat and requires antibiotics.

When Googling the term “headache,” you may think you have a brain tumor when in reality, only less than 1 percent of the population ever develops a brain tumor.

The biggest danger of self-diagnosis is either missing or dismissing something serious. 

The bottom line -- the Internet can be hazardous to your health.


Dr. Art Mollen's practice is located at 16100 N. 71st St. in Scottsdale. For more information, call 480-656-0016 or log on to www.drartmollen.com.

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