According to a recent study, one in four British women has misdiagnosed themselves on the Internet. Researchers found that women with real health concerns are twice as likely to go online for advice than they are to ask a doctor, their friends, or even their mothers, especially where embarrassing symptoms are involved.
What do women find to be too embarrassing to address? Unfortunately, anything having to do with feminine health issues seems to create dread and stop many of us from seeking help. If this is true for British women, it's probably a reasonable assumption that it's equally true for women in other countries.
Common self-misdiagnoses include breast cancer and other forms of cancer, thrush, high blood pressure, asthma, arthritis, depression, diabetes, thyroid problems, and sexual health problems. Common symptoms used to misdiagnose these things include sleep problems, headaches, depression, anxiety, muscle spasms, stomach cramps, chronic muscle pain, severe fatigue, skin sensitivity, and itching.
In general, self-misdiagnosis can be serious if it delays treatment for the true ailment in question, subjects the medical experimenter to unpleasant side effects from inappropriate treatment, or even masks symptoms of the condition that actually needs attention.
The specific research that is the subject of this article was conducted by BalanceActiv, a UK company, in order to raise awareness of Bacterial Vaginosis. If left untreated, BV carries an increased risk of pelvic inflammatory disease, which can lead to reduced fertility, heightened risk of contracting STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) including HIV, and early labor and premature birth if present during pregnancy.
BalanceActiv's spokesperson Penny McCormick says, "There is an increasing trend towards using the internet to diagnose any irregularities or worries we have about our bodies. The web gives us a wealth of information that can be useful in reducing our worries until we're able to gain proper advice from a medical authority if it's needed, but the results show how easy it is to make mistakes when diagnosing ourselves."
Ironically, their proposed solution to the problem of "Dr. Google" is the BalanceActiv Symptom Checker, which is...wait for it...an online self-diagnosis tool.
While it couldn't hurt to learn a little bit more by checking out the symptom checker, it's also a really good idea to take a deep breath, do what you can to release that fear, make a decision to trust, and open up and actually talk to a trained healthcare professional about your concerns. See your pharmacist, gynecologist, or general practitioner. These people are trained to be compassionate. Most of the time their hearts are in the right place, and they really do want to help people.
Being told there's nothing to be ashamed of may not help us get over our dread of asking embarrassing questions. But knowing that everyone else is embarrassed, too, may be one of the best things to come out of this study, and might help provide the nudge in the right direction, toward getting help from a trained professional.