We’re all guilty of symptom-searching on Google, especially when the concern is too “embarrassing” to speak to a GP. Covid-19 has also meant we’re now more likely than ever to skip the doctors, with GP appointments down 30 percent.
The problem is Dr. Google doesn’t always get it right. In fact, research shows Google is wrong a third of the time. Relying on a search engine for your medical advice can also help fuel “cyberchondria” – the escalation of health anxieties based on what you read online.
So, what health concerns are we too embarrassed to speak to a real doctor about?
To find out, online health and wellbeing retailer StressNoMore has analysed just how many of us are googling popular questions relating to common “embarrassing” health concerns including hair loss, bad breath, sweating, warts, constipation, farting, thrush and incontinence.
Of the 10 most-asked questions in the UK over the past year, “How to treat thrush”, a common yeast infection, takes the top spot being searched by over 33,000 people in the UK every month.
Thrush, despite usually being harmless, is still a taboo subject meaning sufferers can be embarrassed to seek medical help. It’s also wrongly thought of as a women’s problem and is caused by poor hygiene. In reality, it can affect anyone at any point in their lives.
Symptoms of thrush include irritation, redness and discharge in the sexual organs, as well as in the armpits, groin and between the fingers. Thrush can usually be easily treated with anti-fungal medicine (a tablet or cream). Even so, the NHS recommends you visit your GP or sexual health clinic to rule out other more serious infections.
In second place is “how to treat acne”, searched by an average of 18,000 people each month. Acne is a common skin condition causing spots, redness and irritation on the face, back and chest and mostly affects teenagers and young adults.
While it cannot be cured, mild acne can be treated with a range of self-help techniques and skincare products, but for more severe cases, antibiotics and stronger creams may be prescribed. But as acne can lower a person’s self-esteem, it can be difficult to talk to someone about it.
“How to remove warts” is the third most-Googled embarrassing health question, searched by almost 15,000 people each month. Warts are small lumps on the skin caused by a viral infection and are spread through skin-to-skin contact or contaminated surfaces, similar to verrucas. Warts are commonly found on the feet, hands, knees and fingers and cause no harm, but they can be seen as embarrassing or unsightly by some.
Looking at the remaining embarrassing health concerns and the most-Googled questions for each, these are how many people are searching for answers to their wellbeing woes each month:
• How to treat piles (12,100 searches per month)
• What causes constipation? (9,900)
• What causes night sweats? (5,400)
• How to stop farting (2,900 searches)
• How to get rid of bad breath (2,900)
• How much hair loss is normal? (590)
• Why do I pee when I cough? (480)
Stephanie Taylor, Founder of StressNoMore commented on the findings:
“The sheer number of people in the UK Googling these health concerns every month just goes to show how common they are so there’s no need to be embarrassed. Most issues have quick fixes and doing something about it can get you back to feeling your best, faster.
“While Googling health concerns is an important step in understanding your health status, Google doesn’t know you as an individual or your medical history. If you have a health concern and are unsure what to do, always consult your GP or another health professional. Remember, nothing is too embarrassing to share.”