Doctors often don't like it when patients use Google to self-diagnose their ailments—and not only because it means less work for them. The internet is rife with inaccurate medical information, and if you experience hypochondria or health-related anxiety, as many of the people who obsessively look up their medical symptoms do, heading down a internet rabbit hole can leave you more stressed.
But whether it's a smart idea or not, many of us will look up our medical symptoms online at some point. In 2013, the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that about 35 percent of Americans went online specifically to diagnose their own medical condition or that of someone they knew. Of people who went online to seek general health info, eight in 10 started their symptom inquiry with a search engine rather than going straight to a medical website or some other source. With that in mind, there are some things to be aware of if you can't wait to consult your doctor before turning to the web.
To have a positive researching experience, Quartz recommends evaluating your mental state before starting the process. If your quest for more information about your health comes from a practical, level-headed place, it probably won't hurt too much to plug your symptoms into the search bar. But if you've already convinced yourself that something is seriously wrong and you're hoping the search will ease your worries, you should pause for a moment.
Self-diagnosing online rarely alleviates anxiety and often makes it worse. Typing chest pain into WebMD, for example, brings up everything from heartburn to heart attack. So don't start Googling your medical symptoms if peace of mind is your goal. And if you find that looking at health information puts anxious thoughts in your head that weren't there before, log off, or put a limit on your browsing time to discourage such thoughts from popping up in the first place.
Another way to save yourself unneeded stress is by avoiding sources filled with unreliable information. Government websites, like MedlinePlus.gov, and academic sites, like the Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library, are often the most trustworthy resources. Always check the date on articles to make sure they're fairly recent, and see if the page lists the medical credentials of the author. And even if you're confident in your self-diagnosis, always visit a flesh-and-blood doctor before acting on your search results.