You have symptoms, should you google them? Yes, but follow these rules of thumb

You have symptoms, should you google them? Yes, but follow these rules of thumb

I am an inveterate, restless, relentless, committed researcher. Nothing makes me happier than having a question that needs an answer. I’m pretty sure Al Gore created the internet for me.

Like just about everyone else on the planet, when I or anyone in my family has symptoms, I turn to the internet. Back in 2012 when I was experiencing gross hematuria (blood in the urine), I immediately turned to Google. I have to say the information I found was helpful and shaped my choices for the better.

But, like just about everyone else on the planet, my docs have warned me about “Dr. Google.” I know why they warn us about this because I’ve fallen into the abyss as a result of consulting the internet when I should have consulted my doctor.

For instance, one night I couldn’t remember if I’d taken my meds. When I googled, I found myself in a virtual room of abuse. I asked this question, “Is it worse to skip a dose or double a dose of Ambien and Ativan?” Bottom line from this group? “You’re a drug addict and you’re lying about forgetting. You just want us to give you permission to overdose.” And that’s the cleaned up version.

I probably should have googled, “Where can I go to be abused by idiots on the internet?” Of course, I skipped the dose and stayed awake until 3 a.m. when it was clear I’d forgotten my Ambien and when it was too late to use it.

So, should you or shouldn’t you Google it? If you are inclined toward research, I say unequivocally “yes.” You just need to know how to find good information. And, there’s plenty of it out there.

So, here are my rules of thumb:

  • Find good, high-quality sites. I’m very fond of the Mayo Clinic’s website. They have a symptom checker, provide information about tests and what to expect, and have good information about diseases and conditions.
  • Don’t go to list serves or discussion forums unless they are recommended to you by a knowledgeable person. Some of these sites, where you ask a question and every one and their puppy responds to your question, are hotbeds of crap. Believe me, those puppies aren’t reliable and some of them bite hard. However, there are some fantastic online groups such as the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network online support group. This group has been so helpful for me and for hundreds of others. But, it took me awhile to find it, and it’s closely monitored.
  • Use the information you find as a way to begin your research. These sites can only give the big picture, statistics, generalities. Health is not general. Your health is very, very specific. You are not a statistic and you are not a textbook case. You are also likely not a freaky outlier.
  • Schedule an appointment with your doctor sooner rather than later. A few months ago during a check-up, my urologist, he asked, “Have you had any problems?” I said, “Well, I thought I had a UTI a few weeks ago.” He said, drily, “And when you came for a urinalysis, what did we tell you about the results?” His point, of course, is that he’s there to answer just such questions. With bladder cancer, I need to stay on top of all symptoms, and he wants me to call. Not only is it better for my bladder health, it’s better for my mental health.

The important thing to remember is that this sort of research is a place to begin. Take notes, pose questions, and get to a doctor as soon as you can.

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