So you get a small pain in your right leg and you think you might have a flesh-eating disease that will claim your limb. Your breast feels tender and you think it’s cancer. Hair loss in the shower might mean anemia.
Though there is always the possibility that these changes in our bodies can signal a bigger problem, sometimes a pain or rash is no big deal. When we freak out and start WebMD-ing our symptoms, we might actually be pushing ourselves deeper and deeper into believeing that we’re sick when we’re not to begin with.
How is that even possible? According to Quartz, “After reading or hearing about illnesses and their symptoms, humans can often imagine they are sick when they are not.”
This can happen on such a scale that people who don’t have any symptoms at all, but come across information on a rare or serious disease, can actually start to plunge themselves into something called “health anxiety,” which is worry and nervousness over an illness that may not even be present at all.
Mind over matter, people.
But mind seems to be winning out when it comes to doctor's visits and the soaring cost of health care. According to Quartz, Americans spend at least $20 billion on unnecessary medical visits in the nation, and the cost of health care is supposed to reach $5.5 trillion by 2024.
According to a 2013 Pew study, 72 percent of Americans search for health info online and of those who attempt to self-diagnose their issue, about half go ahead and make an appointment to talk to a medical doctor.
This has led to the rise of the “cyberchondria” phenomena, a play on words that mix both technology and hypochondria, anxiety about health or illness.
In a groundbreaking survey of 515 individuals, researchers Ryen White and Eric Horvitz found that 9 out of every 10 individuals said they did an online search for a common medical condition, but ended up researching something more rare or serious.
According to Quartz, White and Horvitz concluded that “the web has the potential to increase anxieties of people who have little or no medical training.”
The more you try to visit a doctor’s office or take tests to find out what’s wrong, if anything at all, the more risk you have in actually getting sick. The third most common cause of death in the U.S. is “iatrogenic effect,” which is a term used to describe medical errors and drug interactions, or anything else that can really go wrong in the medical process.
According to Quartz, it is “a blanket term that can refer to an unfortunate drug side effect or interaction, a surgical instrument malfunction, physician negligence, medical error, pathogens in the treatment room, or simple bad luck.”
So the next time you get a strange rash on your arm or a cramp in your leg, you might not want to run to the Internet. Monitor it, and yes, at times you can catch a serious illness early. If you are very worried then go into the doctor’s office.
The Internet is something that gives us a wealth of information at the tips of our fingers, but when it comes to self-diagnosis of a symptom, it can lead to much more unnecessary anxiety than we ever could have imagined.
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