Are you feeling persistent, unexplained pain, and find yourself looking for information to help you form a self-diagnosis?
You’re not alone. It’s often the first step for many when something is off in our bodies. But did you know that this seemingly harmless act can cause more harm than good?
Discover the risks of self-diagnosis when attempting to diagnose chronic pain.
Medical Information in the Modern Age
Furthermore, information on the Internet is not always ranked by reliability or the strength of its evidence, but by popularity, and the relative authority of the source of the information.
This means it’s easy to find outdated information, misleading information, and half-truths, especially in a sensitive field such as medicine. When the information is good, it’s still not necessarily relevant to you, as search engines and online health magazines aren’t sophisticated enough (or authorized) to take your medical history and family history into account.
A layperson may read a list of symptoms – ones that line up with their pain experience – and feel like the pieces all fit together. But the medical reality is often too complicated to be summed up by just your own somatic experiences. A jolt in the back won’t necessarily tell you whether you’re experiencing a slipped disc, a pinched nerve, a pulled muscle, a misfired set of neurons, an episode of referred pain from another part of the body, or something else entirely.
A doctor does more than guess your diagnosis on the basis of a handful of context clues and some symptoms. The information a patient provides during a first appointment is only one small part of a wealth of data a physician must sort through to rule out certain conditions and consider others.
In addition to a variety of information, a patient might not have access to – such as a medical professional’s trained assessment of your appearance and physical fitness, the results of a physical examination, and health data gleaned from bodily fluids such as blood and urine – physicians can also call upon their experience in diagnostics, having performed countless checkups and assessments.
Is a Self-Diagnosis Really So Bad?
There is no harm in wanting to know more about your condition. But if you haven’t talked to a medical professional about your symptoms, and haven’t received a formal diagnosis of anything, then there are a few different reasons you should avoid trying to self-diagnose:
- A misdiagnosis can cause serious harm. Thinking you have a condition that you do not can lead to all sorts of havoc. It can affect you mentally and emotionally. It can worsen your condition, as you might seek out the wrong treatments, attempt self-medication, or seek out pseudoscientific treatments that may do more harm than good.
- Self-diagnosing can put off seeing a physician. An attempted self-diagnosis may delay your chance at treatment, and prolong your illness. Seeing a physician the moment you begin to worry about your health or prolonged, repeated symptoms can help ensure that the root of the problem is addressed as early as possible. A wrong self-diagnosis, however,
- Reading through potential diagnoses can make your condition worse than it is. If you go through any medical textbook, you may find that many conditions have overlapping symptoms. If you pick and choose which symptoms apply to you, it becomes trivially easy to conclude that you’re sick with about a hundred different conditions, many of which are fatal. While it can be an amusing exercise in learning how pain symptoms are just one part of the diagnostic process, some people may begin to worry that they’re ill in ways they couldn’t possibly be.
- Information online is not always accurate. Symptom bloat is a common trend in online circles, especially communities centered around living with certain illnesses. Mental health conditions like anxiety disorders, depression, and ADHD are popular topics that attempt to convince or suggest to viewers that they, too, might be struggling. The same goes for pain conditions.
- The wrong self-diagnosis can lead to costly financial and medical consequences. A person convinced that they are ill with a condition they do not have runs the danger of seeking the wrong kind of treatment, and getting nowhere with it.
A medical diagnosis is not easily met. Doctors spend a great deal of their time in medical school learning as much as they possibly can about the human body – and they go on to continue to learn and grow in their specialty over decades.
A doctor’s opinion, especially a specialist’s, is not the same as that of a layperson, and cannot be summarized in an article or even a medical textbook. And it is also why self-diagnosis is a misnomer – the average person cannot diagnose their own illness, even if they guess their condition correctly. A diagnosis can only be met by a qualified medical professional.
When Should I Seek Help?
Even if you’re struggling with the same pain you’ve had for years, and know from prior experience with doctors that it’s an old surgical wound or recurring injury, it doesn’t hurt to schedule an appointment with a pain specialist and make sure.
Many forms of pain do go away on their own – but those that don’t need to be addressed as early as possible. You should always get in touch with a medical professional when you’re not sure if you need one.
Pain is often just one part of a greater underlying mechanism and can be notoriously difficult to diagnose. Don’t try to do it alone!