Gulp! You discover a lump in your groin. Maybe you pee and your urine seems to have an unusual smell. Or you get your blood test results and learn that your liver enzymes are somewhat elevated. You head right for your computer and type in “lump in groin,” “unusual urine smell,” or “high ALT levels.” After reading a half dozen articles, you are sure you’re in the final stages of lymphoma, your kidneys are failing or your liver is riddled with cancer.
Worrying about a host of potential life-threatening illnesses is definitely not the fabulous side of being over fifty. But using the Internet to make a self-diagnosis only makes us worry more, and it’s usually needless worry. Even pretty good sites, like WebMD, can’t possibly tell us the significance of our lump, smelly pee or high liver enzyme levels. They can only explain what our symptoms could mean, which is kind of like telling us we could be hit by a car, a falling meteor, or a speeding bicyclist when we leave our house in the morning.
I have always believed that knowledge is power, that the more I know about something, the better I am equipped to deal with it. When it comes to health coverage on the “all-knowing Internet,” however, the more we read, the greater the potential of becoming confused, panic-stricken and woefully ill informed.
Making matters worse is the reality that “new media journalists,” with little to no education about the subjects they’re covering, are creating most of the Internet health coverage. Trust me on this. I’ve been an “old school journalist” for 45 years, and while no one “back in the day” would have been permitted to cover the health category unless they practically had medical degrees, that’s surely not the case today. Seems everyone now thinks they’re experts in all kinds of subjects, simply because they have the ability to post stories on the Internet. That may not matter when we’re reading about fashion or beauty, but it certainly matters when we’re seeking information about lumps in our groins or excess fat in our blood.
In fact, I did discover a lump in my groin about five years ago and although I ran to the doctor right away, I also scoured the Internet and definitively concluded that I had lymphoma. I just prayed it wasn’t the lymphoma that would kill me. I could find nothing that told me it likely was a benign cyst. After having a sonogram and surgery to remove the lump, I learned it was just that: a benign cyst, unknown cause.
Granted, the likelihood is small that any of us will completely keep our fingers away from the keyboard when we sense something is physically amiss. But I urge you to try and keep things in perspective when you embark on your online health research. While a suspicious lump, a high blood count or a pain in your lower back might indeed be an indication of something pretty serious, or even life threatening, there’s no point in giving yourself 12 more reasons to be stressed. Just get to a doctor you trust and get to the bottom of it as soon as possible.