FOR those who confuse blue dye from their new jeans with their body being depleted of oxygen or a piece of food stuck on their face for skin cancer, doctors have coined a new term, ‘cyberchondria’.
The online equivalent to hyperchondria is seeing a growing number of patients googling their symptoms first before seeing their GP with often very mixed results.
Dr Andy Davies, from Greenbank Surgery on Manchester Road, said: “It’s a growing phenomenon with some people coming in with reasonable information we can discuss, while others will find treatment options and plans from unregulated information that often isn’t evidence-based.
“Another group have worrying experiences and attach significance to them and after putting them in Google find things that aren’t relevant.
“Years ago a young lady came in with blue hands and thought it was a problem with oxygen levels in her blood called cyanosis.
“I asked her if she was wearing new jeans and then wiped the blue dye off her fingers.
“She was a bit embarrassed and it’s the kind of thing where you put blue fingers into Google it will just come up cyanosis rather than asking if you’ve got new jeans.”
The Warrington CCG chairman said searching for symptoms often generates a lot of anxiety for patients who believe they have conditions that would leave them in critical care rather than walking to see their GP.
He added: “Yesterday I saw 20 patients at the drop-in surgery and two had come in with the prime reason of being worried they might have a horrible condition after looking something up on the internet.
“But I’m sure if I asked more questions there would be a lot more.”
THE top three symptoms patients worry about after searching online:
Tiredness: Dr Davies added: “Tiredness is something that isn’t particularly easy to treat and often people come in thinking it’s diabetes.
“But most people are just tired because they have not had enough sleep, are overworked, have been doing 50 hour weeks or might be worried about their child which all contributes to a sense of tiredness.
“Sometimes people are reluctant to accept factors in their lifestyle contribute to general tiredness.”
Headaches: “Most headaches are tension headaches and you’ll have them towards the end of the day.
“But if you put it into Google, brain tumours and all kinds of other things pop up and cause a lot of worry.”
Lower back pain: “This is a big source of consultation time but often it’s because someone has been doing too much rather than something life-threatening.”
Advice is to use trusted resources online including the NHS Choices and Health Protection Agency websites.
Dr Davies added: “Often searches will return one symptom from a list even if it’s not a major symptom leading to one person my colleague saw believing they had a malignant melanoma when it was actually a piece of food stuck to their face.
“Being reasonable, Google is a useful search tool but patients are better off going to trusted resources.”