Living with health anxiety or hypochondriasis can be very challenging, and one of the ways we often deal with our anxiety is to self-diagnose. In most people (read: non-hypochondriacs), self-diagnosis can be a helpful tool to pin down a particularly difficult diagnosis, but for hypochondriacs, self-diagnosis always leads to disaster.

Here are a few things you should remember:

  1. Even with the wide availability of medical information on the internet, the best place to get a diagnosis is with a doctor who is trained and experienced to discover the root causes of your symptoms. Doctors have something we don’t: objectivity. When you’re a hypochondriac, you’re too involved with your diagnosis to objectively diagnose yourself.
  2. Just because your symptoms match those of a fatal or disfiguring disease doesn’t mean you have that disease. In fact, almost all human diseases — from the benign to the worst — have symptoms similar to those of the common flu or other bacterial or viral infection. There is very rarely a “perfect” symptom, one that definitively proves that you have a disease. So, in short, stop searching for the definitive symptom. You won’t find one.
  3. You will not find anything that gives you comfort. Googling your symptoms is a sure-fire way to get bad results. Just think about how search engines work and you’ll soon realize that the odds are stacked against you. A search engine is designed to return the most common references to your keywords. So why does the search “headache” often lead directly “brain tumor?” Frankly, because most people with headaches don’t waste their time developing web content about it.
  4. Almost every site you visit will mention that it might be cancer, so get it checked out. They do this not only for your own benefit, but also to cover themselves legally. If you stumbled upon a site that claimed your headaches were nothing, and it turned out to be a tumor, you might sue the owner of that site and claim that the information urged you not to get treatment. Rest assured, the odds are in your favor that your symptoms are nothing but the result of stress and anxiety. These disclaimers are not intended to be analyzed by hypochondriacs, so don’t pay any attention to them.

Remember, it’s important to stay involved in your own health care. Too many people pretend that doctors are invincible or that they don’t make mistakes, but don’t use this as an excuse to self-diagnose. If one doctor fails you, don’t go running to Google. Instead, find another doctor. Second, third, and even fourth opinions are very common in medicine.

Just to give you an example, my father has a congenital vascular defect in his leg. About fifteen years ago, he began experiencing severe pain and spent weeks unable to walk. His leg turned blue as it was starved of oxygen due to a defective valve in his hip. His first doctor recommended amputation. The second basically shrugged and didn’t know what to do. The third recommended amputation. The fourth recommended a compression boot and blood thinners. My father still has his leg. Sure, it gives him problems from time to time, but if he had listened to his first doctor, he’d now be in a wheelchair or on a prosthesis. has a great page entitled “Self Diagnosis Pitfalls.” I highly recommend you read it, especially the second entitled, “Why Doesn’t Self-Diagnosis Work?” Read it now.

And stay away from the search engine! Unless, of course, you’re trying to figure out how to install a new water garden, in which case, Google on my friend, Google on.