Martine Rolls: Self diagnosis is dangerous

By Martine Rolls - Online Editor

No matter how much I hate to admit it, I am sick. My body doesn't seem to adjust well to the change of season because every year when winter comes, it hits me: this unfortunate and ill-timed annual event.
So here I am, looking rather pale, with a box of tissues by my side, the third lemon and honey drink with cloves of the day on my bedside table. I'm low on energy and have a thumping headache.
While shivering and sniffling, I'm searching for comfort under three warm blankets. What's worse, my cold sores have come back with a vengeance.
While not as switched-on and productive as usual, I've been brought up with the mind-set that the show must go on.
That's why I'm working from home today. I wouldn't want to risk the production of your daily newspaper by transporting my bugs into the newsroom but I do want bayofplentytimes.co.nz to be up-to-date and looking fresh.
I remember the days when my sister Johanna and I were kids and we took out my parent's medical encyclopaedia whenever we got bored. We looked up the pages with the most horrible photos we could find and checked out the symptoms of the strangest skin diseases and no doubt dreadfully painful conditions.
Right then and there at the tender age of 6, I decided never to become a medical practitioner and certainly not a dermatologist. It was fun, but we were secretly worried that we would actually catch some of those creepy illnesses ourselves one day. I guess the herpes simplex type 1 virus that has emerged on my lip is close enough.
Now we have powerhouse search engines such as Google. A word of advice: Do not believe everything you read on the internet. Self-diagnosis with the help of medical websites is a dangerous thing.

It can easily turn level-headed people into first-class hypochondriacs.
A recent study in the British Medical Journal tested Google's diagnostic capabilities. By entering three to five search words taken from case notes, the report found 58 per cent of the cases diagnosed correctly. That is not a lot.
The use of the internet for medical self-help has become so common that the Medical Council of New Zealand released a statement addressing the issue.
"Patients should not be discouraged from using the internet to research their condition or treatment, but they may need to be reminded that internet research cannot take the place of a face-to-face consultation," it said.
A website, no matter how cleverly made and how professional it looks and regardless of how many interesting symptom-based flowcharts it has, is never a substitute for medical advice. When unwell, use common sense and consult your GP or call the health line on 0800 611 116.
Don't rely on Google to find out what's wrong. Before you know it, you'll be suffering from a hefty dose of what is known as cyberchondria.
In the Life & Style section on this website, there's a poll that I'd like you to vote on. It's about home remedies, and what makes you feel better when you feel unwell.
We have different polls on the website every day on a range of topics and we'd like to encourage people to have their say.
The results are published in the paper on the opinion page. It is totally anonymous so you can be brutally honest.
I have used Google to find out what super foods, herbs and spices I should add to my diet to make me feel better.
I don't like taking too many pills and other pharmaceuticals so I typed into the search bar "foods that fight flu". And, yes, it brought me straight back to all those medical advice websites I just told you to avoid.
Garlic, ginger, lemon, tea and honey are my friends this week. Mind you, my garlic intake at the moment is yet another reason to stay out of the newsroom for now, but I'm convicted it'll get me back on my feet quicker.
Besides the obvious such as blueberries, avocado, salmon, walnuts and spinach I found another super food online: cantaloupe. I'd never even heard of it, so I had to Google it, again.
If they had called it rock melon in the article it would have made sense and saved me a few more clicks but what I read about it was good. Apparently, only a quarter of a rock melon provides almost all the vitamin A needed in one day. Google away and you learn something new every day.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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