Online symptom searches could lead to 'cyberchondria'

Online symptom searches could lead to 'cyberchondria'
 

Surfing for symptoms

Got a mysterious itch? Tempted to go online and see whether you should scratch it? You aren't the only one.

Numerous recent reports have catalogued Americans' appetite for online health research. Some get support — connecting through smoking cessation programs, for example — and medical follow-up, logging blood pressure and other vitals online.

A June report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 61 percent of adults look online for health information. Although more people still turn to their doctors for answers, there's some concern that web surfers are finding a sickness to match even innocuous symptoms. It's referred to as "cyberchondria."

Experts suggest you start with online sources you trust. Beware of search engines which will connect you with all manner of information — reputable or not. Some skepticism is a good thing. If advice seems tinged by commercial interest, move on. And balance reading personal stories with clinical research.

Susannah Fox, associate director of the Pew Internet Project, says there's been a lot of hand-wringing about the quality of online health information, consumers' savviness and their ability to cope with, say, a video on chemotherapy. But, she notes, "In all the data that we've collected over the years, we see more help than harm."

Medicine poison in little hands

Kids are more likely to be poisoned by what's in the medicine cabinet than what's under the sink. According to research by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accidental medication overdoses lead to about 71,000 ER visits by kids annually compared with about 32,000 for other household products such as cleaners. Most accidental overdoses occur when adults aren't watching.

"If parents want to protect their young children [they should] put the caps all the way on and the medications up and away every time they finish using them," says the study's lead author, Dr. Daniel Budnitz.

Surviving heart attacks

The chances of surviving a heart attack, at least in the short term, appear to be better today than they were 14 years ago. Research published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association found a "marked reduction" in death rates of heart attack victims.

The study evaluated Medicare patients who suffered heart attacks and found their odds of dying within 30 days of hospital admission had declined from 18.8 percent in 1995 to 15.8 percent in 2006. Researchers also found short-term death rates varied less from hospital to hospital.

The exact cause of the change can't be pinpointed, researchers say. But they speculate it could reflect improved care.

Sweet drinks, sour numbers

Sodas and sugary juices can sabotage an otherwise healthy diet. Experts say go easy on the heavy stuff and drink some water already. Teaspoons of sugar and calories in 12 ounce drinks:

DRINK SUGAR CALORIES
Cranberry juice cocktail 12 200
Orange juice 10 170
Cola 10 150
Sports drink 5 90
Coffee with sugar packet 1 15
Water 0 0

Source: Harvard School of Public Health

Swine flu vaccine delayed

Blaming manufacturing issues, the federal government is now projecting it will get 45 million doses of H1N1 flu vaccine by mid-October instead of the 120 million doses previously predicted.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Bill Hall says it's ordered 195 million doses and expects to receive 20 million doses each week after the first batch.

"We still expect to have sufficient vaccine to cover the people in the priority groups," Hall says. Those include pregnant women, younger people and health care workers.


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Flu shots are recommended for all healthy people six months of age and up. (Photo by Meredith Rizzo)
Flu shots are recommended for all healthy people six months of age and up. (Photo by Meredith Rizzo)

This 2014 flu vaccine is now available throughout Chicago at your family doctor, walk-in clinics, public health agencies and local pharmacies.

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