Thursday, July 1, 2010

My Affair With Dr. Google

Still life - Crazy doctorImage by de² via Flickr

I admit that I have a bad habit of typing my symptoms into Google and trying to diagnose myself. It's not about wanting to discover more things wrong with me. I just want to understand some of the more annoying symptoms that pop up from time to time without having to send an e-mail to my doctor.

What's my hesitation in contacting my doctor?

It's probably because in the last e-mail I sent I told her about my urine and feces turning deep reddish purple after I ate beets. The Internet told me that it might be a sign of iron deficiency, so I wrote and asked her about it. When my doctor wrote back and told me to enjoy eating the rest of the beets I had in my frig, I felt like I asked a stupid question and wasted her time.

So here I am over the past few weeks consulting Dr. Google instead, which has its own unique set of problems:

Misdiagnosis: Crohn's disease

So over the weekend, when I had GI tract pain and a canker sore, I put those symptoms into the search engine and came up with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. Of course, going back to the eMedicineHealth website today to write this post, I see I missed the part where it said that
recurrent canker sores are a sign of these two diseases. After those search results, I decided I needed to focus on some self care and leave the Internet alone. Needless to say, the GI tract pain cleared up after a day of the BRAT (broth, rice, applesauce and tea) diet and the canker sore, which was very small to begin with, cleared up in about 48 hours.

Unnecessary Worrying: Loss of Smell

I tweeted with an acquaintance of mine last night on Twitter who happened to mention that for the last two years she's experienced a loss of her sense of smell. Wanting to help her, I Googled loss of smell, which took me to a nice link over at MayoClinic.com. The smart people there posted a disclaimer with their information:
Causes shown here are commonly associated with this symptom. Work with your doctor or other health care professional for an accurate diagnosis.
Reading the information there, I learned that loss of smell is sometimes related to aging. Then I clicked in the Expert Advice link and learned that the beta blocker I take can be associated with loss of smell (and taste) as well. While these are both interesting factoids, my overactive imagination probably didn't need to know these things. The information was good for someone who actually has loss of smell and just TMI (too much information) for someone who doesn't.

Self Diagnosis: Eustation Tube Dysfunction

Over the past week or so, I have been waking up with a stuffed up left ear. It seems like just when my ear clears up, it's time for sleep again. I tried a bunch of self care things like a heating pad, cotton in my ear and inhaling steam as well as over the counter medications like Sudafed, Mucinex, ibuprofen and loratadine (generic Claritin.) Since the problem kept coming back, I finally decided to Google it.

I looked to see if a stuffed up ear was a symptom of thoracic outlet syndrome (only one hit) or a complication of using my CPAP machine (lots of hits.) I came across the term eustation tube dysfunction and many, many forum posts from people who say they suffer from it but get no relief from their doctors. Which got me thinking that if this continues, I am going to have to go see my doctor.

It just so happens that my CPAP supplier called me yesterday asking if I wanted a refill on my supplies, so I asked the staff person helping me if using a CPAP machine can cause ear problems. She asked around to the professionals in her office, including a doctor, and the verdict of her straw poll was no. She referred me back to my sleep doctor--smart girl that she is!

The only useful thing I found in all my searching is that if the ear stuffiness is cause by the CPAP, putting in earplugs while you use the CPAP machine can help to equalize the pressure in your ears. So I stuffed a cotton ball in my ear last night and found that it seemed to help a little bit.

The bottom line: I spent a lot of time searching, not really finding an answer, when I probably should have just picked up the phone and made a doctor's appointment.

My Verdict

The Internet is great for finding more information on conditions that you have been diagnosed with, but is a poor substitute for the advice of a doctor when you have new symptoms you are trying to figure out on your own. So I think it is time to end my affair with Dr. Google and go back to asking questions from my real doctors. I need to get over my embarrassment about asking stupid questions and trust that my doctor will let me know if I am asking too many questions and wasting her time. Although I suspect that if I am sending too many emails, she'll invite me to come in to see her before my next scheduled appointment to get checked out by Urgent Care.

So are you having an affair with Dr. Google too? Fill me in on all the juicy details in a comment...

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Migrainista said...

I admit that I also go right to my computer whenever something is going on with me or my husband. My first stop is always the Mayo Clinic website, then google to see what else I may be able to find. Mayo tends to be pretty conservative.

It does seem like so many common symptoms can make the symptom list for serious diseases. And there is a lot of overlap...when you have all kinds of pains and problems anyway.


Lisa C said...

thank you for some giggles as I read this article about the relationship between doctors and Google! I think all of us can relate because who among us have not had some weird side effect due to our medication or are chronic illness and the first place they go to but is of course the Internet. Yes, of course we can find some pretty funny or quite serious and scary results. ironically however, I have found some interesting and very helpful things over the years in actual forums when my doctor did not give information. For example, when I went off most of my rheumatoid arthritis medications to try to get pregnant over 10 years ago, I asked my rheumatologist at the time, over and over, if there was anything I should know about prednisone. It was evidently the only "safe" drug I could be on my time to get pregnant. I saw my rheumatologist frequently because I had to get my knees straying from the fluid that was building up. I saw a high risk OB/GYN who tracked all of the medication I was taking and monitored everything, because eventually I had to see an infertility specialist and go on Clomid. At that point, we decided to stop the craziness and start filling out the adoption paperwork, which we had decided in advance before we started our pregnancy journey. But on a forum I found someone who said that prednisone can affect ovulation. Keep it simple terms "I have been all over the place" hormone only. And so when I asked my rheumatologist if this was true, he simply shrugged and casually said "yes of course, but I didn't believe that with the dosage or on it would impact you." 12 months of pain, 1 million questions, emotions that ran like a roller coaster, and he didn't think it was important to mention it to me. They gave me great peace of mind to have found that other sister somewhere on the Internet who shared a tiny bit of information in 1997 that gave me the tools to ask my doctor for specific question which he then answered.

I don't know if this is the kind of comment you are looking for, but I do hope that perhaps this little bit of information I am passing on will pop up some day when someone googles pregnancy and prednisone and they will in turn be able to know what specific question to ask their doctor.

I always enjoy reading your blog and thank you so much for letting us know about all the blog carnivals this week. These carnivals can keep us busy can't they?