Many of us have done it. We feel ill and head straight to the Internet to look up our symptoms on medical websites, often in hope of arriving at a diagnosis. But is this something patients should be doing without first consulting their doctor?  

Yanik Chauvin, ThinkStock

When it comes to our health, going online to get information is a reality for most people. In fact, 82 percent of Internet users have gone to Google, Bing and Yahoo to look up health information online, while 13 percent used medical sites like WebMD, according to a survey from the Pew Research Center

"In most cases, patients who turn to the Internet for answers usually have a good idea what it is that they're dealing with and they're usually just looking for reassurance that it's not cancer," said Dr. Soumen Samaddar, a family medicine physician in Pennington. "The internet can also give them good ideas on what to do and how to treat it and they'll know when they need to come in."

For many, what they learn online does result in a visit to their doctor's office.

According to the survey, 46 percent said the information they found online led them to believe they needed help from a doctor or medical professional while 38 percent thought they could treat it at home. Meanwhile, 41 percent said that a doctor confirmed the self-diagnosis, 35 percent did not seek a professional opinion and 18 percent said the medical professional did not agree with the ailment or medical condition they thought they had.

One downside to self-diagnosis is it can cause unnecessary stress and worry, especially for those who are slightly nervous about their health to begin with.

"If you think it's cancer or something more serious, and it really isn't, you can give yourself a lot of anxiety you didn't really need. People who are prone to panic attacks can bring one on and wind up taking an unnecessary visit to the emergency room," Samaddar said.

In some cases, people may believe wholeheartedly in their online diagnosis, so much so that they neglect to get the care they need.

"If you have something serious that requires medical attention and the symptoms continue and aren't going away, clearly, you need to see a doctor and, in my experience, most people do make that decision," Samaddar said.

To learn more about the issues and dangers of self-diagnosis, click here.