This Is the Worst Thing You Can Do When You're Sick

Research says that this common response to illness is doing more hurting than helping.

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Getting sick is never an easy thing, and everyone has different responses to how they deal with their sickness. Unfortunately, one of the most common responses is actually also one of the most harmful. According to research and experts, the worst thing you can do when you're sick is Google your symptoms. Read on to find out why, and for more habits to avoid, make sure you know the 20 Things You Should Never Do If You Think You're Getting Sick.

A 2019 survey of 2,000 Americans conducted by OnePoll found that 43 percent of respondents had convinced themselves they had a much more serious sickness than they actually had after Googling their symptoms.

"There was a time when one had a headache and if it did not go away after a day or so, patients would contact their primary care physicians. Those times are gone," says Christopher Drumm, MD, a family practitioner in Pennsylvania. "Five minutes after a headache starts now, patients are on Google trying to self-diagnose. I love Google. It is a great way to get information, but it has led to more worries and anxiety than ever before."

Shot of a sickly young businessman blowing his nose with a tissue while working from home
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Overall, 65 percent of the respondents said they had used the internet at one point to self-diagnose their own sickness. But instead of alleviating the patient's concerns, 74 percent of those respondents admitted that they worried about their health more after Googling their symptoms.

And it seems their worries may be misplaced. According to the respondents, the internet's medical advice was found to be reliable less than 40 percent of the time.

"Not all symptoms are created equal," Drumm explains. "For instance, every headache has a different sensation, location and intensity. There are many different accompanying symptoms that help physicians decide between tension headache and cluster headache and TMJ and brain tumor. But if patients Google 'headache,' brain tumor will be listed on the diagnosis, even if no other symptoms are present."

Google may also be costing you, as well, says Esteban Kosak, a recent medical school graduate and medical advisor for Symptoms Care. A Harvard Medical School study found that internet searches of symptoms actually led to "unnecessary doctor visits, wasting time and money," Kosak says. The study found that in two-thirds of cases where medical attention was not necessary, online symptom checkers still encouraged in-person care.

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People aren't turning to Google for no reason, though. A quarter of the respondents admitted that they didn't have a primary care physician and 6 in 10 said they actively avoided visiting the doctor. There are a variety of reasons why someone might not go to the doctor. Of the respondents, 47 percent said they avoided the doctor because of the cost of medical care, while 37 percent said they didn't go because they felt that doctors typically didn't believe them when they talked about their symptoms.

But Kosak urges people to consult a real doctor if they "have concerns about their health and are worrying about symptoms." After all, a doctor can piece together specific symptoms, previous health concerns, and medical family history to give you the most accurate diagnosis—which is something Google can't take into account. And for advice on staying healthy, discover 10 Secrets for Avoiding Illness From People Who Never Get Sick.

Kali Coleman
Kali is an assistant editor at Best Life. Read more
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