Have a symptom?
See what questions
a doctor would ask.
Diagnosis » Self Diagnosis Pitfalls

Self Diagnosis Pitfalls

Self diagnosis is a dangerous practice. In fact, it is one of the most likely ways to get a misdiagnosis, which is the one thing we want to avoid. We recommend you always seek prompt professional in-person medical advice from your local qualified medical professional.

In practice, self diagnosis is common for many of the most common symptoms and ailments. When you feel the symptoms of a common cold coming on, you don't always rush to the doctor to confirm it. We nevertheless urge you to consult with your doctor about any symptoms, particularly if there is any doubt or concern, or if the symptoms concern a child, infant, elderly, ill, infirm, pregnant, or otherwise at-risk patient.

There are two main ways that a self-diagnosis can go wrong: failure to diagnose a serious illness, or the incorrect self-diagnosis with an extremely serious disease. In the first case, an example would be the failure to diagnose a fever as being caused by meningitis or other serious causes of fever (see misdiagnosis of fever).

Over-diagnosis of serious diseases

In the second case, a person making a self-diagnosis may erroneously come to the belief that they have something serious. There are serious and deadly causes of just about every symptom, but that doesn't mean that you have one of them. Just because you have unexplained weight loss, doesn't mean you have cancer. Just because you feel anxious doesn't mean you have an anxiety disorder. Feeling sadness doesn't always mean you have clinical depression. This type of over-diagnosis of serious illnesses, a kind of hypochondria, has even been given its own coined name: 'cyberchondria' (i.e. hypochondria in the cyber-world).

Why Doesn't Self Diagnosis Work?

In short, you're not an expert. Only your doctor has the knowledge and experience to properly perform the process of diagnosis. You don't really know how to diagnose a fever, and you haven't actually seen that many fevers compared to your doctor.

Another reason is that you can't always see all your symptoms. An in-person face-to-face consultation with your doctor allows the doctors to see numerous forms of visual information about your symptoms. In the fever example again, your doctor can assess your facial color, general appearance, and lots of other aspects of how you present that you are probably not even aware of. The doctor can then, almost subconsciously, compare this situation in its entirety with the numerous other fevers that he/she has seen in their career.

Another reason is that your illness can interfere with your mental processing. For example, a fever can impede your ability to make decisions. Any mental health symptoms can obviously impact upon your ability to make judgements.

In summary, you should always consult with your family doctor about all medical decisions. Self-diagnosis is no substitute for face-to-face expert medical attention.


By using this site you agree to our Terms of Use. Information provided on this site is for informational purposes only; it is not intended as a substitute for advice from your own medical team. The information on this site is not to be used for diagnosing or treating any health concerns you may have - please contact your physician or health care professional for all your medical needs. Please see our Terms of Use.

Home | Symptoms | Diseases | Diagnosis | Videos | Tools | Forum | About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Site Map | Advertise