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All in Your Head: Should You Let the Internet Diagnose You?


Headaches that are too sharp, too long, too concentrated make my head spin (add vertigo to the list). Maybe it's my first migraine? Or very first tumor? It could be anything. Anything! My acute and impending demise sends me straight to my safe place, the Internet, to disprove whatever disease I've concocted. Only sometimes, it doesn't quiet my fears. It makes them louder.

Cyberchondria sounds like a faddy, fake word for people who aren't ready to call themselves hypochondriacs, but it's actually a very real phenomena. People, including web-savvy Microsoft employees who were surveyed, tend to favor search engines over health sites like WebMD, and they search for symptoms not diseases. To find out why this can make matters worse, read more.

A search for symptoms can return a host of results, most for rare and serious conditions. Since "stay away from the Internet" has proved to be useless advice, researchers are now pushing search engines like Google and Microsoft to take a diagnostic approach to health search. Users would enter risk factors like age, sex, weight, etc., in addition to symptoms. Results would display in the order of what's most likely rather than what's most popular or linked (or however Google is doing it these days).

So this all sounds very pragmatic and techy and Web 3.0, but I don't know that I want it. Because the best way to calm Internet disease-digging fears is to disregard its source — the Internet. What happens when that's no longer an excuse? Guess I'll have to go the doctor!

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