Anxiety · Personal · Social Commentary

The Age Of The Symptom Checker.

Hello!

In 2011, webmd.com released to the world a tool which helps hypochondriacs discover horrible diseases and cancers that present with everyday aliments, The Symptom Checker. I’m sure everyone is familiar with it, but if not, know that it’s a program where users can enter symptoms they are having and it will bring up possible reasons for those symptoms. I have used it on many accounts and well. Let’s just say it wasn’t the best decision I ever made, although from a programming point of view, the program is very good.

Before finding out that all of my physical symptoms were from anxiety and not some horrible, deadly affliction, I used it almost nightly trying to figure out what was going on. I constantly went to bed at night believing that I had an ulcer, and brain or stomach cancer. (This definitely wasn’t helping my anxiety.)

Selecting symptoms such as headache, fatigue, and stomach pain gives you about 56 results. These are everyday symptoms and together you wouldn’t think much of them especially if you’d just had Thanksgiving dinner and your whole family is yelling at the TV over some football game. But if you were mildly concerned and looked these up you’d be confronted with phrases like; polyps, Crohn’s disease, Endometriosis, Aortic Aneurysm, Ascaris worms, Colon Cancer, Ovarian Cancer, the list goes on. Suddenly you go from being mildly concerned to on the verge of a panic attack.

With the internet being…well…the internet before seeing a doctor many people turn to this site and similar ones to try to figure out what is causing them to feel sick.

We’re the age of technology, but is this one we really want? Is it causing more problems than it solves? Is it interfering with how doctors operate?

I, for one, would have rather gone to bed not knowing than to go to bed thinking I was going to die of one rare disease or another.

What say you? How do you feel about this subject? Have you used symptom checkers? How did it affect your doctors visit? Let me know!

~K.D.

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12 thoughts on “The Age Of The Symptom Checker.

  1. Whether it’s WebMD (such a misnomer) or the Internet in general I call it Dr Google and became one his best customers for many years. Now I do not look up my symptoms ever, I simply attribute them to anxiety and focus instead on going about my day as much as possible. There is some very useful information online for anxiety sufferers but sadly it’s only a tiny amount compared to the unhelpful and downright scaremongering that is out there.

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    1. You are so right! Dr. Google has not been a very good doctor for me. I’m happy to say that I haven’t searched my symptoms in almost a year. I think the most difficult part, for myself, at least is knowing that it’s probably just anxiety but still not being able to shake the feeling that something is really wrong.

      Thank you for reading! 🙂 ~K.D.

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      1. I know what you mean. What really works for me is accepting that for the moment I will feel anxious. The moment you stop pushing it away and trying to get rid of it, the better you will begin to feel. It’s not an easy journey but acceptance and self compassion really help

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      2. I’m really all for distraction methods. Whenever I’m anxious I push it away and attempt to make it stop. I focus on other things, tv, coloring, conversations. It’s definitely not an easy journey, I wish it was though. I don’t think I’ve fully accepted the fact that my anxiety will probably never not be a thing. (Sorry for the double negative, I couldn’t think of another way to phrase it.)

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      3. I understand 🙂 I think the key with distraction methods is to not do things to get rid of the anxiety but to do them in spite of it. It comes back to the whole fighting it thing only makes it stronger and hang around longer. There are days when I feel very anxious but because I don’t fight it there is a sort of space between me and it and it allows me to go about my day without getting caught up in it

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      4. That is a really interesting and inspiring way to look at it. My counselor never put it that way. I always do things as a way to get rid of the anxiety. My question is though, wouldn’t not fighting it erase any distance from it? I’ve always felt that fighting it was what made that distance.

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      5. I know that not fighting it seems counterintuitive, it often feels that if we don’t fight it then something bad might happen or we might lose control. The paradox is that when we give up control and stop fighting, we regain control. The thing is that we forget what anxiety is. It is hardwired into each of us and it’s designed to protect us and keep us safe, it’s part of our survival mechanism. So fighting it is pointless because actually we are fighting against self preservation which is one of our most basic and strongest skills, we can’t win that fight. What has happened is that we’ve learned to be afraid of anxiety, and to hate it. But if you think about it, anxiety is just an emotion like happiness, sadness or anger. When we feel angry we don’t obsess about how the anger is making us feel physically, the same with happiness or sadness. We just feel the emotion. There’s no reason we can’t be the same with anxiety. We give it so much power, and we’re taught to perceive it as a personality flaw or an illness, but that isn’t the case. Every person experiences anxiety about all sorts of things and that’s completely normal, it’s when it becomes our focus and we treat it like a scary monster that is out to get us that it gains control. Because there’s no physical danger in front of us, we turn inwards and focus on our thoughts and physiological sensations which only serves to increase our suffering. One of the most valuable things I’ve learnt is that we are not our thoughts. Our thoughts are not fact. When you combine that with acceptance and allow the anxiety to come and go as it wants, we remove a layer of anxiety and stress, and our tired nerves get to rest and recover, and slowly but surely we experience less and less anxiety. The space comes from simply “being” with the anxiety regardless of what you’re doing or where you are. I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t try to get rid of anxiety, the same way you wouldn’t try to get rid of feeling happy. Anxiety is not the problem, it’s our reaction to it that gives rise to the disorder. Fighting it only tells our anxious minds that there is something to be afraid of, and so it keeps coming back. When we accept and allow it, we stop expending all that energy on “coping” or trying to eliminate the horrible feelings.

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      6. I’ve had an anxiety disorder my whole life and I’m now in my 40s. And fighting may sometimes postpone suffering but it always returns. It’s only now with acceptance that I can go days or weeks without anxiety, and I haven’t had a panic attack since I started with that mindset (about 6 months). Before I was experiencing severe anxiety all day every day and having 5 or 6 panic attacks a day. Sorry for my long winded replies, but I truly believe this change in perception of anxiety is what leads to long lasting recovery.

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      7. Congratulations on being six months without a panic attack! I’m really happy for you! I, myself am about 2 months without panic attacks. No need to apologize!! This is exactly what I wanted when I started this blog. I wanted to have discussions, I wanted to learn more about how others cope(or not). ~K.D

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    1. It’s definitely very easy to fall into the trap. It’s just so convenient to google things and get answers. I’m glad you haven’t! It’s a very bad habit! 🙂 Thank you for reading! ~K.D

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