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Self-Diagnosing On The Internet Can Lead To ‘Cyberchondria’

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Doing too much medical research on the Internet can be a bad thing for patients, doctors say. (CBS)

Doing too much medical research on the Internet can be a bad thing for patients, doctors say. (CBS)

Mary Kay Kleist Mary Kay Kleist
Mary Kay Kleist is a meteorologist for CBS 2 Chicago. Kleist joined...
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(CBS) — Most of us have done it at least once. We turn to the internet to try and solve a health problem.

But as CBS 2′s Mary Kay Kleist reports, that simple search could lead to a troubling and potentially dangerous condition.

“My left arm was getting quite numb and sore. I looked that up, and the first thing that shows up, ‘heart attack,’” Lisa Lok says.

She has diagnosed herself with everything from heart disease to melanoma. But there’s never been anything wrong with her.

“I’m hoping to find a sense of relief. But usually the exact opposite thing happens,” she says.

Experts say all that immediately available information can be helpful, but it can also become scary.

“You start to have anxiety about it, and you start to lose sleep over it. Then it becomes something that we call ‘Cyberchondria,’ where it is doing more harm than good,” says Northwestern Memorial Hospital physician Rahul Khare.

It’s a growing trend that has sufferers spending countless hours searching online, self-diagnosing, stressing out until finally they come to see the doctor.

Twenty-eight year old Emily Monteagudo says she can’t stop. With each symptom she reads about, there’s another one right behind it — and more behind that. It goes on and on.

“I think it’s just scary to think that something could be going on inside you and you might not even know,” she says. “So then you overreact to little tiny sensations that are like nothing.”

She’s had many concerns about whether she suffered from a stroke, glaucoma, lung cancer and macular degeneration.

“I have found people are very reassured by a physician saying, ‘I’ve looked it over, I’ve investigated it, you definitely don’t have that,’” says Dr. Aaron Michelfelder of Loyola University Health Center.

But some patients who should go to the doctor don’t.

“I think sometimes with Cyberchondria people can be falsely reassured that maybe there’s nothing going on with them,” he says.

Or, they may also delay treatment because they’re too scared to go in. Be careful.

One sure sign of a Cyberchondriac is that you feel worse after getting off the computer. It’s better to let your doctor make the expert evaluation.

Both doctors say searching for random symptoms is a bad idea. The best use of the internet is after you are diagnosed. Then, you can search for more information about that condition. Also, choose reputable websites such as The Mayo Clinic, Web MD and The Cleveland Clinic.

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