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Self-diagnosis and seeking health information online

July 17, 2023
Louise Wills

You feel a pain in your chest; is it just heartburn, or something more sinister? You know that the best thing to do is wait to see if it’s a one-off and consult a doctor if necessary, but now you’re worried and feel the need to act. So, you Google your symptoms and before you know it, you’ve diagnosed yourself with a rare condition and decided that you won’t make it to your next birthday.

Sound familiar? Well, you’re not alone; over half of adults in the UK self-diagnose, with 78% of them using the internet to research their symptoms. There are all kinds of reasons why people are turning to self-diagnosis. For one, wait lists for GP appointments are long and it’s quicker to Google your symptoms, plus it can be really hard to wait when you’re worried. People may also actively avoid going to see a doctor because they’re scared of the outcome or they’ve had a traumatic experience in the past. If you’re feeling anxious about getting a diagnosis, read this.

Although accessing health information online can have its benefits, it can also be misleading. Here are some of the pros and cons to consider…


  • Reading up about potential health issues can help you to identify how you’re feeling, so you’re able to explain it better and advocate for yourself when you do seek professional support.
  • You can take your time to educate yourself about an existing diagnosis, rather than relying on short GP appointments to gather information.
  • You can read the stories of others who have experienced a similar illness, which might help you to feel less alone.
  • By creating spaces where people can talk about their health online, certain conditions are becoming more normalised.
  • You can do your own research into potential treatment options for a diagnosis you’ve been given.


  • By Googling your symptoms, you may scare yourself for no reason. The issue you’re experiencing could be something minor, or nothing at all, but it’s easy to stumble across the worst case scenario and become convinced of it.
  • You may mis-diagnose yourself and dismiss the actual issue, which leads you to take the wrong course of action.
  • Anyone can post information on the internet, so the articles you’re reading may not be entirely accurate. You could end up following unsafe advice that harms you or costs you unnecessary money.
  • There’s so much information on the internet that if you want to find an article that backs up your specific theory, the chances are that you’ll probably be able to.

Ultimately, although online information can be helpful, we shouldn’t use it to replace the advice of healthcare professionals. Doctors don’t just use our symptoms to diagnose us. They also consider our medical history, gender, genes and circumstances, among other things. Similarly, the treatment that they prescribe us is determined by multiple factors. When we self-diagnose, we run the risk of overlooking these things and coming to the wrong conclusion.

Health anxiety and self-diagnosis

Health anxiety is when you spend an excessive amount of time worrying that you’re ill or you’re going to become ill. The level of anxiety you feel may fluctuate depending on your circumstances, but at times it can be severe and may have serious consequences on your life.

People with health anxiety often feel the need to seek reassurance that they aren’t unwell, but the ways that they go about getting this reassurance can actually make them feel more worried. For example, they may carry out ‘checks’ on their bodies; poking and prodding certain areas to see if they have any lumps or unexplained pain. However, by doing this, they can actually cause swelling or sensitivity, which fuels their anxiety further.

Similarly, they may look for reassurance by visiting their GP frequently or Googling their symptoms, however, this keeps them focused on the worry which means they’re unable to move past it. Plus, seeking online health information can be especially detrimental for people with health anxiety as they are more likely to catastrophize and jump to the worst case scenario. If you find yourself spiralling, this article may help.

What are the symptoms of health anxiety?

  • Constantly worrying about your health
  • Routinely check your body for signs of illness
  • Seek reassurance from the people around you or your GP
  • Feel the need to look up health information online
  • Avoid anything that mentions illness, such as the news or certain TV shows
  • Worry that your doctor or medical tests may have overlooked something

Treatment for health anxiety

If you are struggling with anxious thoughts relating to health or anything else, the best thing to do is talk to a mental health professional. You could make an appointment with your GP as a starting point and tell them about the symptoms you're experiencing, or you could refer yourself for talking therapy.

At ieso, we offer online Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to treat a range of mental health issues, including health anxiety. CBT can help you to pinpoint where your anxiety is coming from and encourages you to challenge irrational beliefs by looking at more realistic possibilities. It also provides you with coping strategies going forward. If you’re struggling with health anxiety right now, this article has some useful tips about how you can manage it, but be sure to check out our website to find out more about CBT at ieso.

ieso Online Therapy
This blog has been written by a member of the clinical team at ieso.

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