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The Dangers of Dr. Google

You spot a small rash on your arm, feel a tickle in the back of your throat, or notice strange stomach pains. Whom do you turn to first for answers? That’s right—Google. Suddenly, you’re flooded with information from websites, online forums, social media, and videos. How can you know what’s reliable and relevant, and what isn’t?

Watch Out for Anxiety

Often, looking up a symptom online can be handy and helpful. But it can also be confusing and scary. In some people, this may lead to excessive worrying about their health.

“Cyberchondria” is a nickname for increased anxiety fueled by frequent online searches for health information. It’s similar to illness anxiety disorder, also called hypochondria. In this condition, people become overly worried about having an illness or getting sick.

If online searches are causing anxiety, take a break from the internet. Discuss your health concerns with your doctor.

Be a Savvy Searcher

Some online health resources are trustworthy. But others make false or misleading claims. These tips can help you tell the credible resources from the cyberquacks:

  • Start with your go-to sites. High-quality websites on health topics come from U.S. government sources such as the CDC, Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, and National Library of Medicine. Websites from large medical organizations such as the American Academy of Family Physicians are another reliable resource.

  • Consider the source. For other websites, ask yourself: Is the source a reputable, well-known organization? Has the information been reviewed by health experts?

  • Evaluate the evidence. Is the information based on scientific research? Is it unbiased (not slanted to sell you something)?

Be aware that even the best online information may not apply to your situation. Dr. Google is no substitute for getting personalized advice from your real-world health care provider.