03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

I Must Have Anthrax, The Internet Says So

Admit it. You've done what just about every other adult has done since the advent of the Internet and sites like WebMD and search engines such as Google were introduced. You get an ache in your belly, an odd rash on your skin, a weird bump on your leg, a pain in your chest, you name it and immediately you find yourself logging on and typing your signs and symptoms into a search engine.

A friend of mine has told me some interesting stories about various diseases the Internet convinced him he had. The first was anthrax. Right after September 11th, he had a flight to New York on the day the anthrax scare was announced. When he got off of the plane his flu-like symptoms led him online where he read about anthrax and its symptoms. Immediately convinced he was infected, he raced to the hospital and was faced with a line of hundreds of people who were similarly convinced they had been afflicted with the disease. Seeing the line and the prolonged wait, he quickly decided to risk it and head back to his apartment.

My friend is still alive and anthrax free, but there is a moral to his story. It is okay to research and gather information when various symptoms present themselves, but avoid self-diagnosis. Leave diagnosis up to your primary care physician or medical specialist. When patients self diagnose before heading to see their doctor, they present symptoms they think they should have and end up with a case of anxiety on top of whatever else they may (or may not) be suffering from. In some scary cases they will dig through their medicine cabinet and finish off a course of antibiotics that were remaining from a past occasion.

WebMD,, Dr. Koop, search engines and hundreds of bloggers that offer their thoughts on everything from orthopedic ailments to cancer and heart conditions, (and the list goes on and on) all are fine for researching and better understanding potential illnesses or conditions associated with various symptoms, but they should not be taken as the final word. A trained physician and/or specialists should make the final diagnosis following a thorough examination and testing based on your specific signs and symptoms.

Even trained physicians on occasion know to seek other trained specialists to optimally determine the exact nature of an illness before considering treatment options. Fellowship trained physicians in collaboration and consultation with other specialists including radiologists that specialize in imaging for your specific condition should be engaged.

So next time you are feeling ill, avoid the stress that the Internet can cause and make an appointment to see your doctor.

Oh... with regard to my friend that had "anthrax," he recently visited a historic leper colony in Molokai in Hawaii and when he left the island he noticed he had a rash on the lower side of his back. He was convinced he had contracted leprosy, but after a visit to his physician he learned he had shingles. There are no quick fixes. Medicine is an art and a science and there is no replacement for expertise.