He Says/She Says: Self-Diagnosis

He Says/She Says: Self-diagnosis

In the He Says/She Says series, we discuss financial-ish topics where we agree to disagree.

Joanna is a survivor. Cue Destiny’s Child soundtrack. She has battled leukemia, endometriosis, breast cancer, ADHD, and appendicitis. Most impressive is that she suffers from no lingering effects from these serious illnesses. That’s because Joanna’s a survivor. Oh, also because she’s never actually had any of these conditions in the first place.

You see, Joanna is one of the 35% of American adults that self-diagnose medical conditions. And to be fair, I’d also fit within that group. But Joanna probably sits in the upper echelon of self-diagnosers. When something hurts or I’m not feeling very good, I’ll usually say, “Man, my [insert body part here] really hurts.” When Joanna approaches me about feeling under the weather, she’ll say, “I have polio.” Alright, cool.

Joanna’s diagnostic drug of choice is WebMD. Their SymptomChecker tool actually has you click around your body where you’re experiencing pain/discomfort/intense burning, select a few symptoms like nausea/vomitingswellingdrainage/pus (sorry), and then answer a few additional questions specific to those symptoms. After you’ve checked your boxes and hit submit, voila!, you’ve got possible diseases and illnesses galore.

If you don’t find yourself in the 35% crew, I’ll walk through how it works — or not works. We went on a cleaning rampage this weekend and I learned the cold hard lesson that vacuuming and energy drinks don’t mesh well. At some point in my overly enthusiastic stair vacuuming, I overextended and strained something in my abdomen. Let’s not dwell on how pathetic this is. Moving right along. But it’s a few days later, and my hypochondriac-tic brain starts wondering if that lingering pain isn’t something else disguised as an abdominal strain. So I go to WebMD, click on the upper abdomen and select Pain or Discomfort. Then it asks me a series of nine questions, drilling down the sensation of the pain, if it’s on the left or right side, if the pain is made worse by swallowing irritating chemicals or poison… uhhh. Anyway, after completing those answers, it finally gives me my list of 64 possible conditions, listed in decreasing likelihood. So what have I got?

WebMD self-diagnosis

These results were actually surprisingly tame. Well, minus the SECOND DEADLIEST CANCER. Of course my brain locks on that condition and I click it, only to read symptoms that I psych myself into thinking I’ve got. “I guess I have felt a little more bloated lately.” And then depression, fear and despair sets in.

Despite Joanna’s not-so-good track record with the tool, she still relies far too heavily on it instead of medical professionals. And that’s where Joanna and I disagree on this point. She’d rather save the $15 copay and the hassle of scheduling and visiting a doctor. After enough prodding from me, she usually gives up, only to return home with a much less dire diagnosis.

And that’s a very, very good thing.


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  • Reply Hannah June 25, 2013 at 7:22 am

    I love this! Joanna sounds exactly like my husband! He has a tendency to over exaggerate his symptoms and fear the worst.
    Only my hubby has been known to visit the doctor for the most minor of symptoms. He got told off once for wasting time having a sniffle diagnosed!

    • Reply Johnny June 26, 2013 at 9:50 am

      Hah! Better to be safe than sorry. Although, I don’t know what sort of “sorry” implications might follow sniffles not getting checked out.

  • Reply Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies June 25, 2013 at 7:23 am

    haha, we’re just getting over being sick – so this really hits home. Mr. PoP is of the mind that “I don’t care what’s wrong with me, just take me out back and shoot me if it doesn’t stop soon” and if I had Johnny’s abdomen pain I’d tell Mr. PoP, “I hurt right here. If I die, tell them to start the autopsy here.”
    So I guess we’re not in the 35%. =)

    • Reply Johnny June 26, 2013 at 9:54 am

      Haha. I definitely belong in the 35%, but more often than not, I’ll let things ride out. It’s got to be pretty bad for me to see the doc, BUT I also don’t go into the doctor for a second opinion on X, Y, Z disease that I was diagnosed with by Dr. WebMD.

  • Reply Holly@ClubThrifty June 25, 2013 at 7:30 am

    It’s too easy to self-diagnose when there are websites like WebMD! I try to figure things out myself so I don’t have to pay to go to the doctor…..=/

    • Reply Johnny June 26, 2013 at 9:56 am

      Shame shame shame. I am by no means a fan of paying for or visiting a doctor. But it’s a small price to pay to find out I don’t have malaria.

  • Reply Roo // NEON FRESH June 25, 2013 at 7:41 am

    I used anything but WebMD, but I also sort of abuse the group text feature and text about seven people with my symptoms. I can usually guess what I have (or what the girls have, though).

    “I definitely have the flu.”
    “I definitely have a sinus infection.”
    “I definitely have a stomach bug.”

    I’m always right. Somebody pay me.

    • Reply Sarah June 25, 2013 at 8:47 am

      Dear Dr. Roo,
      My co-pay is normally $35. So how about you just diagnose me and I’ll give you $20. Deal??

      • Reply Roo // NEON FRESH June 25, 2013 at 9:48 am

        My co-pay is a bag of Sour Patch Kids. Thank you, Sarah. Call anytime.

        • Reply Sarah June 25, 2013 at 10:44 am

          I think that all co-pays should be a bag of Sour Patch Kids. Boom. We just fixed the health care system.

    • Reply Johnny June 26, 2013 at 9:59 am

      I’ll just step back and let you two continue to crack our nation’s greatest problems — one sour patch kid at a time.

  • Reply Sarah June 25, 2013 at 8:46 am

    Holy moly I’m so glad my Dad doesn’t know about WebMD, because then we would all be toast. Dad will sneeze and then say “I think I’m coming down with a cold” and schedule a doctor’s appointment. I can’t tell you how many times my Dad has gone to a heart specialist, endocrinologist (sp?), neurologist, etc. all in the belief that there is something seriously wrong with him.

    Thankfully, so far he has been wrong every time. Also thankfully, he has great health insurance so he doesn’t have to pay anything for his multiple visits.

    • Reply Johnny June 26, 2013 at 10:05 am

      Thank goodness for health insurance (and your dad’s good health). I think I have mild hypochondria, because while I allow silly thoughts of medical worry to enter my head every once in a while, I rarely, if ever, have acted on them by scheduling a doctor’s appointment.

  • Reply Grayson @ Debt Roundup June 25, 2013 at 10:47 am

    My wife works in the medical field and hates self diagnosis. I don’t do it much because she will jump down my throat. She thinks WebMD is a bad thing because people always come in with the worst diagnosis and they are almost always wrong. While it provides good information, it can just get people worked up for no reason.

    • Reply Johnny June 26, 2013 at 10:08 am

      Smart wife. I try to stay away because it definitely makes me a head case. Joanna, on the other hand, always uses it and just sorta comes to grips with her awful, terrible usually-fatal diagnoses. Which is weird.

  • Reply Jake @ Common Cents Wealth June 25, 2013 at 11:04 am

    Haha, this is great. I love looking up symptoms on the internet. My favorite is trying to diagnose when our pets our under the weather. Most of the time it just freaks me out becuase the possible bad things are really really bad. The internet is a great resource, but it should be used in conjunction with the doctors, not instead of them.

    • Reply Johnny June 26, 2013 at 11:05 am

      The possible diagnoses are always reallllly reallly bad. We’ve done the same with diagnosing our cat and based on everything we’ve assumed based on our “doctoring,” I think we’re both surprised that she’s still alive. Maybe because there wasn’t/isn’t ANYTHING WRONG WITH HER! 🙂

  • Reply Jennifer @ Budgeting in Baby June 25, 2013 at 11:21 am

    I work in the medical field (at the very bottom) and my biological mother always is calling me with some crazy, disastrous illness. This past weekend she called thinking her appendix was bursting, all she had was a strained muscle. Its a good thing that she doesn’t have internet access, she would be calling daily with some fatal condition.

    • Reply Johnny June 26, 2013 at 11:07 am

      I’ve always wanted a medical professional family member, but no dice there. I’m sure this won’t be the last diagnostic call you’ll get. In fact, if you pass us your phone number, Joanna will make sure it isn’t. 🙂

  • Reply Brian June 25, 2013 at 11:32 am

    Pretty sure every time I have used WeMD it tells me I have cancer. I think the general knowledge provided by these sites are great, but for some reason we always want to pick the worst of the possible diagnosis.

    • Reply Johnny June 26, 2013 at 11:09 am

      I actually think cancer is the default diagnosis on their site.

  • Reply Chris June 25, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    This reminds me of a TV show I watched that was about raising kids or something. Anthony Anderson was in it I think. He was a stay at home dad and he was talking about WebMD’ing your child’s illness. He said, “YOU DON’T DO THAT! Was it Crohn’s Disease? IT’S ALWAYS CROHN’S DISEASE!” I thought it was hilarious.

    I don’t ever Google my symptoms. I actually chalk most things up to normal day-to-day pains. Then 6 months later when it hasn’t gotten any better, and I’m at my doctor’s office for something else I mention that I have pain right here *point at shin*…a few x-rays later and it’s broken. I hate going to the doctor.

    $5 co-pay though so that’s a plus.

    WebMD must put some of the most ridiculous conditions in there just to get you to come back to their website more. Maybe not. Conspiracy.

    • Reply Johnny June 26, 2013 at 11:18 am

      Haha. “IT’S ALWAYS CROHN’S DISEASE!” That’s gold. And spot on.

      WebMD’s definitely got some tricks up their sleeves. They probably created H1N1. Other companies use crazy marketing tactics to go viral; WebMD just creates viral viruses.

  • Reply Chris @ Amplify June 25, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    Worse than using WebMD is Googling your symptoms…you might want the paramedics standing by. Nothing but weird stuff comes back in the search results.

    The problem with self-diagnosis are blogs. Ugh. This one hurts because it’s what I love to do. However, when someone survives some sort of illness and blogs about, they detail their symptoms. Those symptoms show up in the search engines. See where this is going?

    As a runner, I’m not against self-diagnosis. Even then I don’t completely trust any of the info I get back. It does help in getting a ballpark of what’s happening. Even then, I’m going to the doctor before things get worse.

    • Reply Johnny June 26, 2013 at 1:25 pm

      We ran into the pitfalls of googling symptoms when Joanna was pregnant. It caused way too many unnecessary worries from completely unqualified sources of information. Worse off, we knew they were unqualified and probably incorrect, but once a seed of doubt is planted, it’s hard to undo.

  • Reply Diane June 25, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    Oh, my sympathies to you & Joanna~ I know how painful this condition is… I definitely have it! I’m guilty of googling my symptoms & working myself into a total panic! On the other hand, whatever ails me, when I tell my boyfriend my symptoms his response is always the same – STRESS! He’s usually right.. 😉

    • Reply Johnny June 26, 2013 at 1:26 pm

      Hah. Smart boyfriend. Usually when I think I need a doctor, all I really need is probably a shrink. 🙂

  • Reply E.M. June 25, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    I am guilty of this as well. Not as of lately, mostly because I’ve had everything diagnosed by doctors and I’m familiar with most of the pain I experience, but in years past it was bad. I did self diagnose my acid reflux though, and I was spot on with that, so I guess sometimes can provide useful information. Just reminds me of one patient we had when I worked in a doctors office. She constantly came in and insisted she must be having a heart attack every time because something hurt. She was always fine. Eventually they refused to see her :/.

    • Reply Johnny June 26, 2013 at 1:28 pm

      I think when used responsibility, it can be a very valuable tool.

      I’ve never heard of a doctor turning a patient away for crying wolf! That’s crazy. But I totally understand from a doctor’s perspective that a patient like that is denying others who actually ARE sick.

  • Reply Rob June 25, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    Well I guess if we lived in the States then we might be tempted to go the self-diagnosis route in order to save on doctor bills but with our Canadian govt medical coverage we normally don’t have to worry about that and so head off to the doctor more often for (hopefully) some good medical assistance. One other thing: I also doubt that very few doctors tend to self-diagnose their own medical issues, preferring to “get a 2nd opinion” (which should tell you something). But that all said, I gotta tell you that my wife just loves to watch those graphic medical tv (brain surgery 101) shows! Go figure … 🙂

    • Reply Johnny June 26, 2013 at 1:29 pm

      “One other thing: I also doubt that very few doctors tend to self-diagnose their own medical issues, preferring to “get a 2nd opinion” (which should tell you something).”

      Thank you for providing my future go to line of persuasion to get Joanna into a doctor. 🙂

  • Reply Sarah H June 25, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    I work in healthcare and I HATE when people do this. It drives me even more crazy that my husband does this.

    Him: Honey, Do you see this spot on my nose?

    (I look at the freckle he’s had since we’ve been together)

    Me: yeah your freckle.

    Him: NO! I’m fairly sure that’s cancer. Make me a doctors appointment. And let’s try and pop it in case it’s a zit, but I’m positive it’s nose cancer. Do you think I’ll lose my nose?

    Me: (groaning in the fetal position)

    This is a weekly conversation we have and he has been told multiple times to stop wasting the doctors time. Once he went in after telling the doctor he was bleeding heavily from his nose when in fact he just sneezed a slightly bloody booger.

    • Reply Johnny June 26, 2013 at 1:32 pm

      Haha. I love your dialogue. I think I have a lot of irrational health fears in my head, but I actually think I’ve gotten better over time with psyching myself out. I used to be deathly afraid of being motion sick, even though I had never even felt or experienced it. Our family doctor told me to look at the backs of my hands when I was feeling motion sick and it would help. I’m sure it was totally a placebo, but it totally worked.

  • Reply Caitlin June 25, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    Bobby and I are always convinced we have a brain tumor when we get headaches. Totally normal thought process.

    • Reply Johnny June 26, 2013 at 1:33 pm

      Luckily Advil is an awesome tumor killer.

  • Reply Linda June 27, 2013 at 4:00 am

    Haha, I’ve had appendicitis sooo many times! I’m a self-diagnoser all the way.

    • Reply Johnny June 28, 2013 at 10:52 am

      Appendicitis definitely ranks high on my list of “I definitely have this.”

  • Reply Emily June 28, 2013 at 10:15 am

    I am EXACTLY like Joanna on this one! My family knows to never listen to my self-diagnosis. But it does make me worry about a potential ‘boy who cried wolf’ situation!! What if one day I really do contract polio and no one believes me?!

    • Reply Johnny July 1, 2013 at 12:27 am

      If Google can tell you if you have polio, it surely can tell you how to treat it, too. Joanna will probably have already recovered from her bout of “polio,” so you can always ask her how to fix it. 🙂

  • Reply Budget and the Beach June 30, 2013 at 11:15 am

    This is also referred to as “Dr. Google.” I have done it myself and have worried myself (probably sicker) with what I “may” have. I read a great book called Mind Over Medicine and it sort of eased my mind about how our thinking actually causes more harm than a possible sickness. But anyway, hope you colon cancer heals soon! 🙂

    • Reply Johnny July 1, 2013 at 12:32 am

      I’ve got to read that book. My mind is totally self-destructive when it comes to illnesses or perceived illnesses. And thanks for the well wishes! I think it’s already in remission!

  • Reply Suzanne January 28, 2015 at 4:00 pm

    Omg! This is sooooooooo funny!!!!! Just reading over old posts and saw this! I’m exactly the same!!!! Just this morning I was at the doc with a pain in my calf, not muscular pain, it was deep inside my leg. Clearly, I was suffering from varicose veins (inward of course seeing as there was no bulging vein…cue mini vomit!!!), a DVT or bone cancer (the rarest form of course)… Doc gave me anti inflammatory meds…. I was like are u sure that I don’t have cancer??? My boyfriend thinks I’m insane!! 🙂

    • Reply Johnny February 8, 2015 at 10:05 pm

      Hahaha. This scenario is basically every day in our household. We’re the best as self-diagnosing and the worst at ever getting it right. I think we’re batting 0%.

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