Feeling sick? No better way to find out what you have than to “google” your symptoms, right? Did you know that Google receives an estimated 70,000 health-related searches every single minute? Got low back pain? Google will tell you why.
Unfortunately, while there is a lot of reputable information that can be found online, most of the online symptom checkers are generally pretty inaccurate. You type in your symptoms, answer a few questions and, voila - you have your diagnosis! Too good to be true? Probably. And, playing into our deepest darkest fears, the symptoms generally tell us that we are about to die from some sort of dreaded disease.
Should I "Google" My Symptoms?
Hmm... you might want to take your google results with a pinch of salt. A new study from Edith Cowan University showed that online symptom checkers were only accurate in about 1 out of every 3 queries. The study, which was published in the Medical Journal of Australia, looked at 36 international symptom checkers (both web-based and mobile) and found that the correct diagnosis only came back 36% of the time. Those that gave a result with the correct diagnosis within their top 3 options yielded a slightly better result with a 52% chance of returning the correct diagnosis.
When Is It Helpful To "Google" Your Symptoms?
In 2019 Eligibility.com studied how patients researched their symptoms. They found that 89% of people look their symptoms up online before they even see their doctor. If used correctly, this can be a helpful way for patients to have informed discussions about their health concerns with their doctor. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of distrust and misinformation out there between doctors and patients and this can lead to frustrations for both parties.
Stress - The Most Googled Symptom
While back pain is a condition that affects almost 80% of the population at one time or another, interestingly, stress is one of the most searched-for symptoms. There are more than 120,000 monthly searches for low back pain and 120,000 - 300,000 for stress with that number increasing daily since the start of the global pandemic. Back pain and stress are actually more related than you might think (see our blog on stress and back pain).
Most Googled Symptoms Per State In The USA
The Eligibility study surveyed American citizens on their Googling habits and ran each symptom through Google Trends to see which state had the highest search volume for it. Here is what they found:
Alabama: acid reflux
Arizona: morning sickness
California: sweaty palms
Delaware: stuffy nose
Florida: nasal congestion
Georgia: nasal congestion
Hawaii: sore throat
Idaho: symptoms of e.coli
Indiana: uncircumcised problems
Kentucky: upper back pains
Maine: night sweats
Michigan: stuffy nose
Nebraska: low testosterone
Nevada: stomach ache
New Hampshire: bloating
New Jersey: lucid dreams
New Mexico: Flem (Phlegm)
New York: loss of sleep
North Carolina: loss of sleep
North Dakota: IBS symptoms
Oklahoma: Flu symptoms
Rhode Island: lucid dreams
South Carolina: dark green stool
South Dakota: headache
Tennessee: pregnancy cravings
Texas: nasal congestion
Utah: morning sickness
Washington: stomach ache
West Virginia: irritableness
Wisconsin: light colored poop
Wyoming: stomach ache
Should I Google My Lower Back Pain Symptoms?
So, what does all of this mean for low back pain, since it is one of the most common issues facing adults across the world? 80% of the population will experience pain in their lower back at some point in their lives. For many, the pain can be extremely scary and often the exact cause of the pain is unknown. Experiencing a trauma to the back, or a sudden injury can offer a more concrete explanation, but trauma is only one cause of lower back pain.
In most instances, when you experience acute low back pain it generally goes away on its own within a few weeks. If you find that your pain persists past that time frame, you might be experiencing chronic lower back pain. Chronic back pain is defined as "pain that continues for 12 weeks or longer, even after an initial injury or underlying cause of acute low back pain has been treated." About 20 percent of people affected by acute low back pain go on to develop chronic low back pain with persistent symptoms at one year.
Even if pain persists, it does not always mean there is a medically serious underlying cause or one that can be easily identified and treated. In some cases, treatment successfully relieves chronic low back pain, but in other cases pain continues despite medical and surgical treatment.
Red Flags For Low Back Pain
There are certain symptoms and conditions, called red flags, that, when present along with persistent lower back pain, can be cause for further investigation. If you are experiencing any red flags, it is important to make an appointment with your healthcare provider so that you can discuss these concerns and so that your doctor can run tests and investigate further. Red flags refer to symptoms that might accompany your low back pain and can help give you an indication of when you might want to seek professional advice.
In the US, there has been an increasing trend for patients with low back pain to seek care at urgent care and ambulatory care centers. The CDC reported that “back-related complaints accounted for more than 5.7 million visits to urgent and ambulatory care clinics in 2016”. When you are in excruciating pain it can be difficult to know if there is something more serious going on, or if your pain is going to go away on its own. Understandably, people are looking for reassurance regarding their condition.
When To See A Doctor For Low Back Pain
While the presence of red flags is not always cause for alarm, if you have low back pain along with any of the red flags that we are going to talk about in this article, it is probably a good idea to make an appointment with your healthcare provider and talk about your symptoms. Your doctor will be able to look into your concerns and possibly order some diagnostic tests to see if there is anything more serious going on. Better to be safe than sorry.
Age (younger than 18; older than 50)
Blood thinners (medications such as Warfarin can cause problems)
History of cancer
IV drug use
Because low back pain is such a common occurrence, it can be helpful to know what red flags to look out for if you are wondering if your back pain is more serious. Generally speaking, red flags are helpful to both low back pain sufferers and their healthcare providers to help identify the cause of low back pain. Knowing what red flags to look out for can help to reduce the number of missed or incorrect diagnoses, reduce the number of ER visits and can help make sure that serious diagnosis can be made faster, with better outcomes.
While it is certainly tempting to take Dr. Google’s word for it, there are some instances where it is definitely better to make an appointment with your healthcare provider to go through your symptoms, review your medical history, and address any concerns that you might have. You would be surprised how a seemingly insignificant symptom might just be the exact clue that your doctor needs to make the perfect diagnosis!
Scheduling a timely appointment with your doctor can help reduce your stress around all the possibilities of what something could be, and help you start tackling a health issue much faster. And when it comes to healthcare, early detection can make a huge difference to outcomes!