August 28, 2019
Clinical Contributors to this Story
Lauren H. Parkes, D.O. contributes to topics such as Family Medicine.
Dr. Internet isn’t going anywhere—many people still find peace of mind in Googling health symptoms. Being able to check your symptoms online can equip you with much-needed knowledge and empower you to make better health choices, but if you try to diagnose yourself based on what you read, think again.
“So many people rely on the internet for health information,” says Lauren Parkes, D.O., a board certified family medicine physician. “While it can be beneficial in many ways, using the internet to diagnose yourself can be quite harmful.”
“The problem with self-diagnosing yourself isn’t that you may be completely wrong in the actual diagnosis; it’s that you may skip critical treatment and wind up letting a condition or disease do further damage to your body as a result,” Dr. Parkes says.
While some ailments may be more easily identified using the internet, here are five (among others) that you should see a doctor about, as self-diagnosing them could be more harmful than helpful.
You may think that a pain in your chest is only that, but how can you be sure it’s not signaling a larger issue?
If you are having a heart attack, chest pain can present in so many different sensations, such as dull or sharp pain, or pressure. Even if it’s not a heart attack, telling yourself that chest pain is no big deal could be risky. Chest pain could be a sign of heart muscle inflammation, coronary artery disease, pleurisy of the lungs, pneumonia, a lung abscess, a stomach ulcer or a blood clot—just to name a few. Knowing that, you may not want to self-diagnose anything related to chest pain.
“Many people think that if they can rule out a heart attack, chest pain is no big deal,” says Dr. Parkes. “The truth is that chest pain could be a heart attack, or can be indicative of so many other diseases and ailments. It’s best to get chest pains checked out by a doctor.”
Have you ever experienced extreme pain down your back or legs? Or have you experienced a new sensation that you’re sure must be the extreme pain that so many people with sciatica try to describe? It may be sciatica, but that pain could be so many other things.
Sacroiliac joint dysfunction is just one ailment that mimics sciatic pain. Sciatica can also be a signal of a larger issue such as a herniated disc or stenosis.
“The problem with telling yourself that an extreme pain is sciatica is that you may be missing the actual issue,” says Dr. Parkes. “Without an accurate diagnosis, you could be leaving harmful symptoms untreated and living needlessly in pain, or wind up causing permanent damage by ignoring symptoms.”
Virus or bacterial infection? Though you may think that lingering cold is just taking a long time to clear, it’s best to see a doctor to determine if it is viral or bacterial. Letting a sinus infection go untreated may take a while to clear up in some people, but it could be problematic in others.
“If a bacterial cold is left untreated, it can turn into pneumonia or worse,” says Dr. Parkes.
Even if you don’t want to take antibiotics, it may be a good idea to see a doctor if your cold is not clearing up within a week or so. The doctor can help you rule out a bacterial infection. He or she may prescribe antibiotics to take at a later date assuming the cold doesn’t clear up.
Chronic fatigue syndrome.
Do you always seem to be tired? You may feel chronically fatigued, but you may not actually have chronic fatigue syndrome. Why see a doctor since there is no definitive test for the condition? What can you really do to treat chronic fatigue if you do have it, as there’s no cure and physicians can only treat symptoms?
“While chronic fatigue syndrome can be hard to diagnose and treat, see a doctor about it—if only to rule out other harmful conditions such as leukemia,” Dr. Parkes says. “It’s best to see your physician because tiredness and exhaustion can be symptoms of other serious conditions and diseases. If you have something else, you want to be sure it’s accurately diagnosed so you can quickly begin treatment. And if you do have chronic fatigue syndrome, there are many treatments that a doctor can share.”
When you feel unhappy, you may believe you are clinically depressed. After all, most of us know what it is like to feel sadness or hopelessness for an extended amount of time. We go through times when we don’t sleep or eat normally, and some of us have had times when we have had thoughts related to suicide.
Those are just some of the symptoms of depression that people can feel clearly without undergoing any medical tests, so it can seem natural to diagnose ourselves with depression. Screening tools are easy to access online. Plus, many people may feel ashamed for seeking help with a mental health issue.
“The problem with self-diagnosing yourself with depression is that you may be less likely to seek much-needed interventions due to the stigma that surrounds mental health,” says Dr. Parkes.
Some people need treatments such as medication or therapy to help with depression, and they may not get it if they think they can cope with depression without professional assistance.
“If you do think you’re depressed, or know you are depressed, you should still seek out medical attention. In addition to providing treatments for depression, a doctor can tell if your depression requires medical intervention, or if your depression is related to another ailment,” Dr. Parkes adds.
Dr. Parkes is part of Hackensack Meridian Health Medical Group, a network of over 1,000 physicians and advanced providers at more than 300 practice locations throughout New Jersey. Visit HMHMedicalGroup.org for more information.
Ready to see a doctor about any symptoms you’re having, or just want to get in for a checkup? To find a provider near you, visit HackensackMeridianHealth.org.
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.