Self-diagnosis: A headache or brain cancer?

We are all doing it – going straight to WebMD instead of the real MD. According to a recent study, more than one-third of U.S. adults use the Internet to self-diagnose their medical condition. However, less than half — 41 percent — say that a doctor confirmed the diagnosis they made from online research.1

In other words, there is a chance your diagnosis is right, but the odds are clearly not in your favor. More to the point, self-diagnosis brings with it potential dangers. You may receive conflicting recommendations and potentially outdated information. A serious condition could be taken too lightly leading to complications.

Alternatively, people who believe too strongly in their ability to self-diagnose through online resources may become a “cyberchondria”­­––a common cold could suddenly turn into a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease! These patients, driven by anxiety and preoccupation, often bring to their physician pictures and descriptions of their diagnosed condition. The result is a waste of their own time, as well as their physician’s.

Another consideration is the source of your information. Is it from the government, a university or a health organization? Is the author a medical professional?

It is safe to say that the more complex conditions are especially challenging to get right. Not just for the patient, but for the doctor. While there are some physicians using Skype and other videoconferencing tools for remote diagnosis as well as telemedicine services, tremor can be difficult because there are many different kinds. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, there are more than 20 types of tremor.

In general, tremor is involuntary, shaking movements in one or more parts of the body.  It most often impacts the hands but can be present in the arms, head, vocal cords, torso, and legs.  Tremor may happen for distinct periods of time or can be constantly in motion.

Seems simple enough, but wait until you get into the specifics. Tremors can present either during Rest or are related to an Action. For example, when a muscle is relaxed, such as when your hands are on your lap, this is a resting tremor. Action tremors are more common, occurring with the voluntary movement of a muscle, for example when picking up a fork.

Then consider that a tremor, like other forms of movement disorders, is diagnosed based on a physical and neurological examination and an individual’s medical history.  During this process, a doctor will assess the tremor based on multiple factors that cannot be assessed through an online research effort.

As you can see, there is no substitute for a neurologist’s extensive clinical knowledge and experience for a diagnosis when it comes to tremor. Further, determining the right treatment is critical and there are different treatments for different tremors – which is best for a given case, depends on the diagnosis.

So, if someone may have a tremor it is time to consult a neurologist specializing in movement disorders. Naturally, other complex conditions require their own specialists to determine diagnosis and treatment. After all, a diagnostic guess based on online research will only take you so far. A physician’s examination will help identify the type of tremor and the best ways to treat the condition. To find a neurologist, go to the International Essential Tremor Foundation web page.