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What's That Symptom? Experts Warn of Self-Diagnosis Via the Web
Date:7/27/2012

By Kathleen Doheny
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, July 27 (HealthDay News) -- Got a weird ache or pain? A rash that's hung around too long? With the wealth of information now available at the click of a mouse, it's common to search the Web to figure out what may be wrong with you.

But a new study suggests that when the symptoms are your own, "self-diagnosis" via the Internet -- or anywhere but a doctor's office -- too often leads to inaccurate, worst-case conclusions.

Research suggests that people tend to overestimate their own risk for serious ailments, in a way that they wouldn't do if they were thinking about someone else's symptoms.

"This is particularly true when the disease is rare," said study co-author Dengfeng Yan, a doctoral student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. "That is, given the same set of symptoms, people will overestimate their own likelihood of getting such rare (often serious) diseases than that of other people."

The study was published online recently in the Journal of Consumer Research and will appear in the journal's February 2013 print issue.

In a series of six experiments, Yan and co-researcher Jaideep Sengupta gave nearly 250 college students information about such diseases as flu, HIV, osteoporosis and breast cancer.

In the experiment on flu, for example, the students were told they were simply being tested on what they knew about the illness. But the researchers then told them to imagine that they had a number of symptoms -- cough, fever, runny nose, headache -- and then asked whether they thought they had "regular" flu or the (at the time) rarer and scarier H1N1 "swine" flu. They were also asked to diagnose a hypothetical "someone else" with these symptoms.

According to the researchers, when referring to their own symptoms people were much quicker to diagnose the rarer H1N1 strain of flu compared to if they thought the sympto
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