Just about anyone with internet access and a body that occasionally goes haywire has had the experience of Googling their symptoms and watching, horrified, as the results stream in.
Headache = brain tumor! Sharp pain in your side = punctured lung! Sore post-workout legs = deep vein thrombosis!
“Yes, you might have a rash, and, yes, you might have seen something somewhere about cancer,” says functional medicine doctor Robin Berzin, MD, founder of Parsley Health. “In your case, however, it’s probably just eczema.”
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Dr. Berzin isn’t making light of how jarring the experience can be, nor is she against the Internet as a health tool.
Instead, she’s spilling her tips on Googling for good, not evil, when it comes to your personal wellness:
Never self-diagnose. Spending time furiously searching symptoms on your iPhone, then declaring you’ve got X, Y, or Z can be downright dangerous. First off, it can keep you from getting the help you actually need. (Yes, “eye herpes” is a thing. But reading more about it doesn’t cure whatever’s happening actually with your eye.)
Restrain yourself from acting on Dr. Google’s advice. “It’s one thing to try a vegan diet or a Paleo diet, because you’ve read good things about them online,” Dr. Berzin says. “But it’s a very different thing to go out, read information about a health condition, and then try to apply it to yourself.”
Always consider the source. “A lot of times, people read a personal story and they say, ‘Hey, that sounds like me. That’s my problem too!’ and they get very worked up, and may even take a course of action that isn’t actually relevant to them,” Dr. Berzin says. “On the flip side, some of the big academic centers have really reliable information, but they’re taking the broadest, 1,000-foot view of a particular condition.”
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Look for credentials. Just because someone has a popular blog does not mean they know what they’re talking about, whether they’re dishing about fitness, a particular treatment, or something nutrition-related. “Pretty pictures of food do not equal expertise,” Dr. Berzin warns. And don’t just fall for good SEO—the first Google results aren’t necessarily the most accurate.
Take your symptoms to a doctor. “I’m in a different camp than a lot of physicians, because I think it’s awesome that there’s lots of information out there,” Dr. Berzin says. “It’s an interplay, and you have to be an active participant in your own health.” But treatment doesn’t come from reading an article (or worrying about an article). That’s what an MD does.
For more information, visit www.parsleyhealth.com
(First photo: Pexels; second photo: Dr. Robin Berzin)