Women are more likely to turn to "Dr. Google" or other internet search engines to self-diagnose their health problems than they are to go to the actual doctor for a first opinion, according to a new British study that focused on females. And worse still, one in four women misdiagnoses herself entirely, which often leads to incorrect and dangerous self-medicating. Here, a brief guide to the disturbing trend:
What exactly did researchers find?
After studying 1,000 women, researchers discovered that women facing unexplained health problems were twice as likely to Google their problems than to go straight to the doctor. One in four had misdiagnosed themselves entirely, and half of the study's participants had purchased medicine without consulting a doctor — and often gotten it wrong. "'Dr. Google' is now the first port of call for women with genuine health concerns," says Christine Hsu at Medical Daily, "even though it rarely gives an accurate diagnosis."
Why are so many women self-diagnosing with Google?
They don't want to spend money or wait for appointments, says Erin Gloria Ryan at Jezebel. "Even though he's often wrong, Dr. Internet is basically free and essentially immediate, and you can't beat free and immediate." About 30 percent of the study's participants put off visiting the doctor's office due to wait times.
Are women afraid to talk to their doctors?
Yes, says Denise Amrich at ZDNet. Many women are embarrassed to talk about their symptoms. "Unfortunately, anything having to do with feminine health issues seems to create dread and stops many of us from seeking help."
What sorts of illnesses are being misdiagnosed?
Many women incorrectly concluded that they had breast cancer, according to the study. Other common misdiagnoses include thrush, high blood pressure, arthritis, diabetes, and sexual health problems. In many of these cases, the observed symptoms were actually due to sleep problems, headaches, depression, or anxiety.
So what should people do?
Knowing that "there's nothing to be ashamed of may not help us get over our dread of asking embarrassing questions," says Amrich. "But knowing that everyone else is embarrassed, too, may be one of the best things to come out of this study, and might help provide the nudge in the right direction, toward getting help from a trained professional."