By Mika Sood
I remember sitting in a lecture theatre learning about types of strokes – how it’s possible to have a brain aneurysm just sitting in your brain, how slowly the artery wall can weaken to the point that it can burst randomly and unprovoked and how it could, in theory, happen to anyone – including me. I don’t know why, but after learning more about it that day, I started to relate the symptoms to myself: “Do I have neck stiffness? Am I nauseous? I probably have a headache”. I could talk myself into thinking I had a brain aneurysm, and it wasn’t far-fetched at all.
I think we can all say that at some point so far in our medical education, all of the signs and symptoms begin to sound far too familiar as soon as we have studied a certain condition. This leads to a jump down the rabbit hole with a bit of help from Dr Google, and we self-diagnose ourselves with a condition or disease that had never crossed our minds before.
Medical Student Syndrome is defined as a condition frequently reported in medical students where they think they have the symptoms of a disease that they are studying. Don’t worry if this has happened to you – it’s significantly common and there have even been studies and research done about it. It has many names including “Third Year Syndrome” or “Disease of the Week”, but in essence, it’s a temporary kind of hypochondria based on being extremely aware of psychological and physiological dysfunctions and relating those signs and symptoms to oneself.
The wider community is also not immune to the effects of Dr Google, and in the age of this digital hypochondria, it’s important for us, as future doctors, to realise these effects for ourselves and the general population. It is true that you can find solid, evidence-based information online, but most Google research will not be directing you to the therapeutic guidelines. The easy access to health information is definitely convenient, and it is much less embarrassing than going in for a consultation to ask if it’s possible to have cancer and a brain aneurysm, but it’s also more than likely to be an incorrect diagnosis that can increase anxiety levels unnecessarily (1).
So, I guess this is a big red stop sign to get you to halt your daily activities and call out the irrational thoughts in your head. As medical students, it’s hard not to worry and stress about basically everything, but here is a little friendly reminder that you probably don’t have a life-threatening brain aneurysm or a rare deadly form of leukemia.
Take home message: Close all your google tabs. Stop self-diagnosing. I promise you don’t have the disease you think you do.
P.S. On a serious note, if you are really worried about something, definitely go see your doctor.
(1) MedicalDirector. Dr Google Survey 2019 [Internet]. MedicalDirector; 2019 [cited 2020]. 24 p. No: WHI00047Med – AUSV1. Available from: https://www.medicaldirector.com/resources/doctor-google