If you've recently been diagnosed with a debilitating case of skin disease as well as early stage onset of the bubonic plague all without actually seeing a doctor, you may want to skim through CNN's list of cyberchondrial behaviors.
I have to admit, I've gone overboard myself using the internet to diagnose a strange black tumor-like growth on the undercarriage of my beloved boxer a few years back. After an hour and 45 minutes of scanning through a gallery of horrific images on google I realized that I was freaking out over my dog's nipple. I ended that whole episode with great relief and the phrase...why do they need so many??
These things just happen. The internet has a wealth of information about everything, available instantly. Why wouldn't you go there first to look up your symptoms? According to Boston psychiatrist Arthur J. Barsky, this type of cyber health DIY is only helpful if the information doesn't take the place of a true physician's word:
"I don't have a problem with people fishing around on the Internet to see what diseases they might have," Barsky says. "For most people, a doctor's reassurances that they're fine is adequate. I worry about the people for whom that isn't enough, and whose concerns persist and go right back on the Internet."
How to know when enough is enough:
"Plan in advance what you want to find out, what the question is you're trying to answer, and how much time you're willing to spend on it," he says. "If you find yourself exceeding those limits, you should ratchet it down."
And common sense says, there are a million different things that could be causing your headache or why a patch of your skin is all of a sudden red and itchy. Just like common sense says that all mammals have an even number of nipples. Stay calm. Make an appointment and speak with a doc.
Arthur J. Barsky, M.D., is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of psychiatric research at Brigham and Women¹s Hospital. He is the author of Worried Sick and is a widely recognized authority in his field. His clinical interests include adjustment disorder, anxiety disorders, depression, psychosomatic research, and somatization.