Beware Dr Google – The dangers of self diagnosis on the web
One in four British women has misdiagnosed themselves on the internet – then bought the wrong product in an attempt to cure themselves, a study revealed yesterday.
Researchers found Dr Google is now the first port of call for women with genuine health concerns who are almost twice as likely to check online before consulting a doctor or even talking to Mum. A trend towards trusting the internet over friends, family and medical professionals meant half of the 1,000 women studied would first try to treat an ailment themselves rather than risk embarrassment. But searching their symptoms online and self-medicating has led a tenth of the country’s women to endure unpleasant side effects as a result of their misdiagnosis.
The research, which was commissioned by feminine health brand Balanceactiv found a quarter of British women will trust the internet for advice on treatments if they find their symptoms embarrassing.
Penny McCormick, spokeswoman forBalance Activ said yesterday: ”There is an increasing trend towards using the internet to diagnose any irregularities or worries we have about our bodies.
”The web gives us a wealth of information that can be useful in reducing our worries until we’re able to gain proper advice from a medical authority if it’s needed, but the results show how easy it is to make mistakes when diagnosing ourselves.
”It’s important we learn which information to trust online and that we’re able to make the distinction between what can be self-diagnosed and easily treated, and what definitely requires the help of a medical professional.
“What can seem like a relatively harmless but embarrassing symptom could develop into something more serious so it is important for women to ensure they are asking the right questions and treating certain conditions effectively in the first instance.”
The study was carried out to mark National BV Day on 18th April – which aims to raise awareness of Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) – a condition that is almost twice as prevalent as thrush that 2 out of 3 women are misdiagnosing. If left untreated BV has been linked to some serious health implications including an increased risk in contracting STIs, infertility and miscarriage if present during pregnancy. The report also found despite having diagnosed themselves online and decided on a high street treatment, 45 per cent never check they are buying the right thing with a pharmacist or counter staff.
The agonising wait for answers is what drives thirty per cent of women to look for help online, while one in ten hesitate to tell friends or family of any health problems because they don’t want the issue to be ‘made into a fuss’. Tellingly, three quarters of the 1,000 women said there are certain health issues they aren’t comfortable talking to friends and family about. Indeed, women are more likely to trust their own diagnosis when embarrassed by their symptoms – half of the study would always try to deal with the problem themselves before seeking help from others. Over a quarter of respondents dread talking to doctors about anything they are embarrassed about.
Most women had spent a few days worrying over symptoms before speaking to anyone, while a worry-stricken third of the sample had endured at least two weeks sweating over an ailment. Remarkably, one in twenty women said they had spent a number of years worrying a particular symptom was something serious before eventually getting it checked out. Because of waiting times, thirty per cent only visit the doctor as a last resort, while half of the women studied said they would always try all they can to cure themselves and only seek medical advice if the problem didn’t go away.
The symptoms most likely to prompt women to diagnose themselves are problems sleeping, headaches and depression, while muscle pain, itching and fatigue regularly cause women to consult Dr Google. A fifth of women had at some time suspected they had a serious disease – the most common false alarm came over breast cancer, while many women had wrongly diagnosed themselves as having thrush, high blood pressure or asthma.
Penny McCormick, spokeswoman for Balance Activ, continued: “With the resource the internet provides us, it makes sense that women now see this as the first place to consult, especially as they can do so in private.
“However women choose to get advice about their health, being embarrassed by symptoms should never lead to them making a quick or unsupported diagnosis on their own unless they are certain of the quality of the information.
“Worrying symptoms or anything relating to our intimate areas naturally makes it harder to deal with and often leads women to rush to a diagnosis or avoid the issue completely.
“Leaving symptoms untreated, particularly with BV, can lead to serious health implications including an increased risk in contracting STIs, infertility and miscarriage if present during pregnancy.
“That is why we have launched an online symptom checker so women with any health concerns relating to their intimate areas can diagnose themselves accurately to help treat it right.”
TOP 10 MOST COMMONLY MISDIAGNOSED
1. Breast cancer
2. Other forms of cancer
4. High blood pressure
9. Sexual health problems
10. Thyroid problems
Data provided by Balanceactiv to raise awareness of Bacterial Vaginosis Day 18 April 2012.