When you awaken in the middle of the night with a throbbing headache, what’s the first thing you do if your preferred pain reliever doesn’t work? Do you reach for your phone or computer and start researching symptoms online to figure out what might be wrong? That’s what most people do.

Eight in ten Americans look for medical information on the Internet. We just can’t help ourselves.

Unfortunately, surfing through pages and pages of information on all of the diseases that you might possibly have only increases worry and anxiety. This is why many doctors don’t recommend Googling your symptoms.

However, sometimes the temptation is too strong and you just can’t wait until your next doctor’s appointment. Here are some tips on how to research your symptoms online without increasing your anxiety.

Don’t Use Search Engines Or Message Boards

The most natural thing to do when looking for medical information online is to use a search engine like Google or Yahoo and type in your symptoms. Unfortunately, this just increases your risk of running into inaccurate information.

A better way to do it, is to go to a reputable website, such as Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic and Centers for Disease Control, and use the search bar on the site to find reliable and accurate information. Remember to bookmark these websites to find them easily when you need them.

Also, please stay away from message boards. Just because someone has similar symptoms doesn’t mean that your symptoms have the same cause.

Be Specific

Vague search terms lead to scary results, so be as specific as possible and enter as many symptoms as you can. Thankfully, this is what symptom checkers are for. Some sites like Mayo Clinic, DocResponse and Family Doctor, offer free symptom checkers that make it so much easier for you to give specific information about your symptoms.

However, researchers from Harvard Medical School have found that online symptom checkers are inconsistent and inaccurate, so don’t rely on them for diagnosis. Only about 34% of the users receive an accurate diagnosis. You still need to see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

Look for Solutions

Instead of entering a vague symptom into the search bar, look for the solution. For example, instead of looking up “fatigue”, look up “how to relieve fatigue.” Solutions are much less worrisome than symptoms and are less likely to send you into full blown panic mode.

And even when you think you’ve finally found the solution you’ve been searching for, please don’t spend your hard earned money on any tests or remedies before getting a proper diagnosis from a qualified medical practitioner. As always, stick to reputable websites when researching solutions and question every alternative remedy you come across to make sure it’s the real deal.

See a Doctor

“Dr. Google” is not a replacement for a qualified medical practitioner. You still need to see a doctor for a proper diagnosis (I think we’ve made our point by now).

When you do, don’t start the session by regurgitating all the information you found online. Listen first and be open to being wrong. Hear what he or she has to say and ask any question that are on your mind; write your questions on a piece of paper ahead of time so you don’t forget them in the pressure of the moment.

The best time to search for medical information online is after you have seen a doctor and received a proper diagnosis. This way, you know exactly what you’re looking for and won’t get sucked into the dark, scary rabbit hole of the Internet.

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