With internet at our fingertips at any given moment throughout our daily lives, we have become accustomed to asking questions and having them answered. Unfortunately this is also true with Googling our symptoms when we become injured or ill.
When we feel a sharp tightening in our shoulder, or a piercing heat down our leg, or just about any symptom, rather than head to a doctor’s office, we open our laptop and let an algorithm tell us what’s wrong.
That urge may be strong to pour through article after article until we are convinced that we’re experts on our problem. However, seeking online information without also seeking professional advice is a slippery slope towards a misdiagnosis, which could lead to serious problems down the road.
When it comes to understanding pain, online symptom checkers seem to make it easy. Just click problems – shooting pain, dull ache, tenderness, swelling, etc. – age, gender and a few other details. Next, wait half a second for the program to generate a list of possible causes and treatment recommendations. Often those recommendations include seeking the professional advice we were avoiding in the first place, but they often also suggest home remedies, stretches, and exercises.
The problem with Googling our symptoms is that our internet browser cannot physically assess us, or pick up on physical cues that may tip off your doctor as to what the problem may be. In addition, Google often requires only simple descriptions of our pain, which may miss larger issues due to pain referral. For example, referred pain down their left arm could be the result of a shoulder injury but it could also be the sign of a heart attack. Furthermore, when seeing a trained professional, you can expect a full patient history to be performed, which could help lead your practitioner to an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.
So, should we ever Google our symptoms? Sure, it’s hard not to resist the temptation, especially since many symptom checkers are tied to reputable organizations like the Mayo Clinic, and various government organizations. However, at the end of the day it’s best to be seen by a trained professional so that serious injuries or problems don’t get overlooked.