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Googling your diagnosis: Can the Internet save your life?

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Can the Internet save your life?

I’m going to say, ‘Yes.’  However, before you go diagnosing your latest medical issue, let me make it clear that I’m talking about accurate information on the World Wide Web.  

Recently, a mother saved her son’s life by Googling his symptoms after he was initially misdiagnosed as having gastroenteritis.  Her Internet sleuthing eventually lead to the discovery of her son’s brain tumor, and she was able to take him to another doctor – who diagnosed and treated him just in time.

RELATED: Mother saves son's life by Googling symptoms after initial misdiagnosis

While this story is extraordinary, I feel like this is something that has happened more than once.  For the last decade, I’ve seen how patients and their families utilize good sources of medical information to enhance or question a diagnosis – as well as seek alternative forms of health care.

In my practice, many of my patients who come see me for the first time bring a list of questions about what they think might be ailing them.  And that makes our conversations quite interesting.

However, let’s not lose sight of the fact that there are people who go on the Internet, decide they’re not going to listen to their health care provider, and seek completely different forms of treatment.  Depending on the source of their information, they could find themselves in trouble. Some alternative medicine or herbal medicine websites promise a cure for every ailment, but in reality, many of these medications have never been tested.

I also think that many patients can become addicted to the Internet, constantly seeking out information and creating pseudo-diagnoses for themselves.  This can create a constant atmosphere of paranoia and anxiety.  

Overall, I would recommend treating the Internet as you would a good, old-fashioned family health guide that you may have on your bookshelf at home.  It can help you understand some of the things you are going through, before ultimately seeking out proper medical help.  The Internet is a much wider tool that can have tremendous positive contributions to your health, but at the same time, it can offer up some dark alleys you don’t want to go down.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's Senior Managing Editor for Health News. Prior to this position, Alvarez was a FNC medical contributor.
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