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Self-Diagnosis does more Harm than Good, Go see a Doctor, Experts say

Update Date: Jul 27, 2012 03:28 PM EDT

We've all been guilty of flocking to the Internet to find a reason for a headache, a rash or a weird feeling we have. But now, a new research has noted that when we self-diagnose ourselves, we often draw the wrong conclusions.

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

The researchers say that people tend to overestimate their own risk for serious ailments, especially when the disease is rare.  

Study co-author Dengfeng Yan, said that people will overestimate their own likelihood of getting such rare (often serious) diseases than that of other people.

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

Researchers noted that with the flu experiment, the students were much quicker to diagnose themselves with the rarer H1N1 strain of flu compared to if they thought the symptoms were someone else's.

"Consumers often fear the worst when it comes to their own health, while maintaining a calm objectivity with regard to others," Yan said. "If you've got pain in the chest, you think: heart attack. If a friend of a friend has the same symptoms, you say: probably indigestion."

Instead of doing diagnosing yourself, Yan suggests seeing a real doctor.

According to the authors, over-diagnosing could lead "to mistakenly diagnosing oneself as possessing a serious disease, causing both unnecessary anxiety and wasteful medical expenditure and mistaken self-diagnoses of this sort are particularly likely given the ease of information access on the Internet, which frequently leads consumers to engage in 'symptom-matching' exercises."

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