Column: Web diagnosis is a dangerous game

GP Doctors NHS
GP Doctors NHS

I was ill last week and made the mistake of Googling my symptoms.

Come on, we’ve all done it.

I don’t know what I was hoping to achieve but 20 minutes later, after self-diagnosing myself with bowel cancer and/or liver failure, I flipped my iPad shut and vowed ‘never again.’

As a child, I was a bit of a hypochondriac, something I got from my grandmother - a lovely but peculiar woman who was terrified of everything and wore a ‘preventative’ foam support collar around her neck from the age of 50. 
She spent her life convinced she was doomed for an early death - right up until she eventually passed away at a ripe old age. She would have worn her Google search engine out, had it existed in her day and, as an impressionable child, her paranoia rubbed off on me.

I spent much of my early years thinking every ache and growing pain was some awful disease before finally cottoning on, as a teenager, what a waste of precious time this was.

What followed was 20 blissful years of looking on the bright side. And then I became a parent.

I don’t know what it is, maybe it’s the awareness that you’ve just created a precious life that you need to be around a long time for, but something about becoming a parent has stirred up a little of that young hypochondriac in me all over again. 
But Googling symptoms is a dangerous game. After all, dozens of harmless symptoms can be attributed to deadly diseases.

Did you know that confusion is a symptom of stroke, psychosis, Alzheimer’s and alcoholism. 
Even fatigue - something most parents live in a constant dull state of - can be a clue you’re on the verge of croaking it at the hands of liver disease, HIV, or bone cancer.

(P.S. It’s also a symptom of the common cold.)

There’s now even a name for this recreational online disease tourism that more and more of us are indulging in - cyberchondria.

I decided to experiment, typing ‘runny nose’ and ‘tiredness’ into Google - the most common symtoms I could think - fully expecting to get millions of hits for websites saying ‘duh! That’s a cold!’

But no, apparently the combination of being tired and having a runny nose could well mean you’re suffering with diabetes, a heart rhythm disorder, Lyme disease or hepatitis.

I decided then and there that my days of cyberchondria were done.