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Avoid Self-Diagnosis: How to Properly Evaluate Symptoms

The internet has changed a lot of things, including the way people manage their health and interact with their doctors. Interactive online self-diagnosis tools, for example, will process your symptoms, provide a list of possible diagnoses, and even recommend a basic course of treatment. Unfortunately, a 2015 study published in the British Medical Journal found that these tools only report the correct diagnosis about 34 percent of the time. With this faulty information so readily available, how can you avoid the trap of self-diagnosis while still accurately evaluating your symptoms in preparation for your next visit to the doctor?

Know Your Normal

Although there are plenty of accepted health standards -- detailing everything from body temperature to hormone levels -- these numbers will vary from person to person. And, while you likely aren't dealing with such minute details, you do know your individual situation. Understanding your baseline, the way that you generally feel, will help you to know when something is amiss. This is the first step to deciding how to proceed.

It's important to realize that establishing your baseline includes just about everything about you. Mood, energy levels, and sleep patterns can all change when conditions start to develop. But because these aspects of life can change pretty frequently, people will often ignore or excuse these shifts, missing their significance.

Follow the Progession

Very often, things that people think of as an illness are actually just symptoms. Fevers are a prime example. You only get a fever when your body is reacting to something else. To really know what's happening, your doctor needs to know all of the circumstances surrounding the development of symptoms, including when and how they developed.

The order of symptoms is particularly important. You might, for example, feel some pain in your stomach. Did that eventually lead to diarrhea or other symptoms? If it helps, write down these symptoms in the order they occurred, along with any other information about the event. Did you eat anything around the time that you start feeling discomfort in your stomach? Your doctor will want to know what it was, if you've eaten it before, and other bits of information. All of this will give your doctor what they need to figure out what's really going on.

Be Open and Honest

When collecting your list of symptoms, be honest and include everything that could have any impact on your health. Have you been exercising more than usual? Has your diet changed? Are you taking any medications or supplements? Have you been under an unusual amount of stress lately?

Your doctor will need to be aware of all of these factors in order to provide an appropriate diagnosis and treatment. Don't hold back potentially embarrassing information. Even if you've taken illegal drugs, your doctor needs to know. Remember that a visit to your doctor is entirely confidential and that they cannot help you without knowing exactly what's happening in your life.

Even with the aid of a book or tool on the internet, self-diagnosis denies you access to a thinking, feeling medical expert. An accurate diagnosis depends on a person who's trained to sort through a mass of information and knows all of the pertinent facts.

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