Krista Swanson: Tech Mummy


Google Searching for medical advice

Searching online for medical advice might not be a good idea

I have a love hate relationship with Google.

I love it because I’ve become a master of search terms, and can find anything I need within seconds.

I hate it for the same reason.

I’ll take you back a few months to January of last year. I started having severe cramps in my gut, below my right ribcage. A quick Google search led me to believe it was gallbladder related, I cut down on fatty food and waited to see the Doctor until the next attack – and she was also convinced that given the symptoms it was gallbladder related. She sent me for an ultrasound which – came back negative. Joy.

So, left with no answer other than an “It really seems Gallbladder related, but it isn’t” I went back to my daily routine of searching Google for support forums that would have someone – anyone – who is going though the same thing as me.

Over the next few months the attacks continued, getting worse and worse. I finally got in to see the doctor again, and her decision was to send me to a Gastroenterologist. I went home happy to have an answer coming to me. No more Google … Until … she called and said she wanted me to have blood work ASAP. I forgot to ask what the blood work was for, so when I went in the next morning I took a peek at the requisition and wrote down everything I could.

There it was on the paper – Check AST, ALT for LFT. I didn’t even bother asking the nurse about it, I grabbed my BlackBerry and Googled it. Liver Enzymes … liver disease … cirrhosis … Crap.

I called my Doctor on the way home and she confirmed, she has a suspicion that I have liver disease.

Liver disease?!  It can’t be! Nobody in any of the forums I found mentioned liver disease … or did they. Back onto Google, searching again for someone who would have good news for me.  There was a mix of positive and negative stories. Double crap.

In the weeks following, I see the Gastroenterologist who pokes around, tells me my liver feels fine, the levels in the blood are elevated, but not enough to cause concern for now. The real issue is that I probably have Crohns or Colitis, or potentially colon cancer and a colonoscopy will confirm. 

I grabbed a stack of pamphlets on the way out, but as you can guess from the theme of this story, they ended up in the recycle bin as I went home. I grabbed the iPad and Google’d my way through the stages, symptoms and life with the diseases. I tried to pretend that I wasn’t bothered by the potential of having any of the C words presented to me, but I couldn’t tear myself away from the frantic search for information about all of the diseases. 

The symptoms matched. EVERY symptom matched. I’m actually sick.

Before I went to bed every night I watched videos of colonoscopy’s on YouTube so I would know what I should be watching for while they did the test, then I cried myself to sleep worried about what the test would reveal. I thought I was being brave – I was using Google to ease my mind so I wouldn’t worry the people around me.

I had the colonoscopy last week . There were biopsies taken, but the gastro doc is fairly sure I have Ulcerative Colitis. It’s not Cancer. And what do I do – I tweet about it so that hopefully when someone does a search this will come up: “It’s Not Cancer!!!!! It’s just colitis! Squeee!”  

The moral of my story is this : Google is a powerful tool. It helps you find information in seconds.  It’s a blessing and a curse all wrapped up into one convenient, term suggesting, search bar. I found helpful stories, and scary stories. And although I’m a Google search master, I’m not going to use Google as my medical dictionary anymore.

Sometimes knowing ‘just enough’ is quite enough.