I put my symptoms in Google and it told me I had cancer

Confessions of a possible hypochondriac who is addicted to self-diagnosis.

“It could be mouth cancer” the website tells me. “It could be what now?” I thought as I clicked super fast to find out more about my potential diagnosis. This took me to some pretty gross images of painful looking ulcers and tongues with unhealthy looking holes in them. I thought about my own ulcer that had appeared on the back of my mouth along with my sore throat. I’d only come here for confirmation that the unpleasant whitish tongue I’d woke up with was because of tonsillitis, but I’d ended up briefly giving myself a grim diagnosis. Of course, a visit to the doctor today has confirmed that the ulcer is nothing to worry about and gargling with salt water should do the trick.

I often Google my symptoms. It’s rare they tell me anything I don’t know, but it’s more for confirmation. For someone that gets tonsillitis so often that my friends aren’t even concerned anymore, more bored by my predictability, I’m aware of what to look for.

This doesn’t keep me away from using Google as my own personal doctor though, just to ensure that, yes, my inflamed tonsils mean I’ve got some form of viral infection.The strain on the NHS, caused by funding cuts, increased demand for A&E departments and an ageing population, means that trying to get a appointment at the University Health Service quickly is often a painstaking process.

Symptom googling is a bit of an addiction of mine. I’ve referred to myself as a hypochondriac in the past, but in a casual throwaway sense. And so, I had a little Google of what it means to be a hypochondriac, and thus, begins my in-blog musing of whether it applies to me. The NHS Choices website tells me people with health anxiety  are “constantly seeking information and reassurance” such as by “obsessively researching illnesses from the internet”. Considering this is the second time I have done this today and I’m no stranger to an online diagnosis quiz, I’d say I can relate to this.

For people with health anxiety, which is another word for hypochondria, their daily life is plagued by excessive worrying about their health. I make frequent appointments with my GP, but this is because I get ill so often- which I am in fact worried is due to an underlying health condition, like an under-active thyroid, passed down from my mother. The next question to ask myself: “Have you been preoccupied with having a serious illness because of body symptoms, which has lasted at least six months?”

I think I have diabetics. I feel like I am always thirsty, that I wee a lot and I shake sometimes when I’m hungry, which could mean my blood sugar is low. I do get tired and have lost weight, but again I think this is a standard result of me being at university. I haven’t had the test to find out whether I am actually diabetic, so the jury is still out on whether this is a genuine worry or a fanatical one. What it does tell me is that, if you do enough googling of your symptoms, you will end up with a self-diagnosis of some sort.

The next symptom to check is “have you felt distressed due to this preoccupation?”. As having diabetics would suck pretty bad, I can confirm the thought has distressed me.

Next: “Have you experienced disbelief over a diagnosis from a doctor, or felt you are unconvinced by your doctor’s reassurances that you are fine?”. After my bout of a Peritonsillar Abscess last semester, I was convinced (if not just desperately hoping) that a damaged, inefficient immune system was the reason I kept getting so ill. No such luck, seems my immunoglobulin count was fine, but I am sceptical of that fact.

“Have you needed to carry out constant self-examination and self-diagnosis?” How constant are we talking here? It’s not like I check myself for abnormal rashes or moles over breakfast, but I have drawn numerous conclusions on my health without visiting a doctor.

This to me shows how anxiety, along with other forms of mental illness, should fall on a spectrum. There’s a danger, with being too black and white, that people may be deterred from seeking help because they don’t think they are worthy of asking for help. Of course, with people like me who are overly eager to self-diagnose, there are strict checklists for a reason. I don’t feel “unconvinced by your doctor’s reassurances that you are fine?” or need “reassurance from doctors, family and friends that you are fine, even if you don’t really believe what you are being told?”

The NHS does also tell me: “You may be vulnerable to health anxiety because you are a worrier generally.” If being a worrier means I worry about everything from getting off the bus in time for my stop, to ever succeeding in getting my ideal job and whether that takeaway I just had is going to push my cholesterol over the edge then I think that has me covered. This little research project has also dredged up old memories. Namely, of panicking when I thought I felt a lump in my breast when I was about 12, and going off to my Mum in a panic over having breast cancer.

Is this paranoia a personal trait, a product of a overly cautious society or a smashed hybrid of both?  Each week are told to fear something new which threatens our health. This week, cooking rice the wrong way can give us cancer, or heart disease.

It’s no wonder that some of us get anxious about our lifestyle choices and our health.Sadly, my online researching cannot determine where I tread the line between ‘normal’ amounts of worrying and an anxiety disorder in the same way a trained medical professional can, but if you, to, find yourself frantically typing away health related questions into Google on a regular basis, know you are not alone.


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