Should I be Googling my symptoms

Often when patients attend an appointment with us, they come with a long list of “Googled diagnoses”. As with many online self diagnosis websites the results can be alarming, information can be misconstrued and healthcare professionals can be quite scornful to the practice of ‘googling my symptoms’.

Patients should not be made to feel anxious about searching the internet for more information about their condition – After all, this is how we learn about our world and gather information. So why should our health be any different.

But, there are issues to consider. Here we discuss the potential positives and negatives related to ‘googling my symptoms’.

The negatives of ‘Googling my symptoms’

First of all, googling symptoms can often create anxiety in patients. On the one hand, most resources on Google are duty bound to advise of the potential worst case scenario and will conclude in advising you to attend your local A&E or see a doctor. Many symptoms of the body are quite ambiguous and subjective, e.g., ‘swelling’, or descriptions of pain, such as ‘shooting pain’, which can cover a whole range of potential diagnoses.

The second potential problem is that many online resources are there to coax you into buying or purchasing some form of treatment or device to relieve your symptoms. Therefore, as well as creating a lot of anxiety around your disorder, they will also try to sell to you at a very inflated price a potential solution to your problem.

Thirdly, studies have shown even websites from supposedly trustworthy sources such as government agencies provide inaccurate and incomplete information. So even when we are looking on supposedly reputable sources they may be outdated or out of line with current thinking in terms of diagnosis, treatment and management.

Ferreira, Giovanni, et al. “Credibility, Accuracy, and Comprehensiveness of Internet-Based Information About Low Back Pain: A Systematic Review.” Journal of medical Internet research 21.5 (2019): e13357.

Conclusion – Noncommercial freely accessible websites demonstrated low credibility standards, provided mostly inaccurate information, and lacked comprehensiveness across all types of LBP.

Googling my symptoms - Concerned businessman using laptop computer.

Other issues

Googling too many symptoms can lead to a whole range of potential diagnoses which, again, can create anxiety within our patients. This is something that we often see when people have quite diffuse symptoms and they have been googling and are advised of a multiple range of sources of their problems, some of them very serious and sinister.

The positives of ‘Googling my symptoms’

Googling symptoms demonstrates that the patient has reached the point where they need to seek help and they are being proactive about their healthcare.

Googling symptoms will make people think about their problem, monitor their symptoms and start thinking about aggravating and easing factors for example, which can be extremely helpful for the physiotherapist.

Often patients have arrived at the correct diagnosis or certainly a diagnosis which is similar to the correct diagnosis. Therefore, this can be very useful in helping to focus our assessment and treatment. We are often able to read between the lines of the diagnosis that the patient has reached from searching Google in terms of knowing where to target our own clinical questioning.

So as you can see, there are a number of potential risks and benefits to googling your symptoms.

Our top tips would be as follows:-

Try not to get anxious if you read symptoms on Google, which sound much more serious than you had anticipated. Always wait until you have been properly assessed by a medical professional.

Do not purchase expensive treatments or put yourself forward for expensive investigations through your Google research. Again, wait until you have been thoroughly assessed by an experienced and trustworthy medical professional who will help to guide you if any intervention, treatments or investigations are genuinely warranted.

By all means, discuss with your physiotherapist or medical professional, the findings of your google searches. As mentioned above, they can actually be very helpful, but also remember that many symptoms are quite ambiguous and subjective. Therefore, allow yourself to be guided by your healthcare professional who is clinically assessing you, so they have the benefit of being able to see you and assess you in the flesh, rather than creating a diagnosis based on a few yes or no answers.

If any doubt, please email us your questions or concerns. We are always happy to reply and respond.