Something scary could be lurking in your e-mail inbox. Well-meaning family, friends, and co-workers often forward e-mails hailing the latest health claims. However, these messages may actually contain false rumors designed to cause fear and worry among readers.
Messages may also contain links to Web sites claiming to be written by healthcare experts. Often, Internet health scares claim common household substances cause disease, or warn you to check yourself for certain symptoms. People often become very anxious when they receive these messages, and forward them without realizing they are contributing to an Internet health scare.
Health scare examples
One example is the often-forwarded warning that using antiperspirant causes breast cancer. Although the logic sounds reasonable (antiperspirant blocks pores, keeping cancer-causing toxins in the body), science says that this is not true. Sweat escapes from many areas of the body, and there is no proof that a backup of sweat causes cancer. Other examples of Internet health scares include warnings about ingredients in hygiene products, artificial sweeteners, or non-stick cookware. These warnings may have some basis in fact, but are usually not as serious as the forwarded e-mail would lead you to believe.
So, is all health information on the Internet false? Not at all—many Web sites have valuable health advice. The trick is being a smart consumer and sorting rumor from fact.
How can you find useful health information on the Internet while protecting yourself from Internet health scares? If you see some alarming health information online, follow these steps:
Check it out
Use a search engine like Google to learn more about the issue mentioned. You can also investigate the credentials of the supposed “experts” mentioned. Also visit a site like Snopes.com, which specializes in exposing urban legends.
Dr. John Bennett, assistant professor, UK College of Medicine, and UK HealthCare physician, recommends using a reputable Web site like WebMD.com to research conditions and possible diagnoses.
Ask a professional
Even extensive Internet research is no substitute for a consultation with a physician. Your healthcare provider can help interpret information from the Internet, and tell you how it applies to your specific health.
The Internet can be a useful tool in managing your health.
“New developments in disease-specific areas and new techniques in addressing old problems are available for the health consumer to review and discuss with their practitioner,” says Bennett. He recommends patients use the Web “to stay abreast of what is developing in diseases or health areas of interest, and then discuss them with their healthcare practitioner.”
The Internet is a powerful research tool, but you should still present information gathered online to your healthcare provider. Don’t self-diagnose.
According to Bennett, “The primary danger associated with self-diagnosis is delaying treatment due to a missed diagnosis.” You can also save yourself a lot of needless worry by checking out Internet health information with a professional.
Consult before changing treatment
Finally, be sure to consult your physician or other healthcare provider before changing treatments—whether with over-the-counter medicines or herbal treatments. Even over-the-counter or natural remedies can still lead to serious complications and should be discussed with a healthcare professional first.
The Internet is full of statements about health—some true, some false, and some under investigation. So before you throw out your deodorant, start a new diet, or worry if you have the symptoms of a rare disease, do your homework and see your doctor. There’s no trick, but the confidence that comes from learning about your health can be a real treat.