Whether you're looking for a nearby sushi restaurant, how to unstick a zipper or why cilantro tastes like soap to some people, the internet is probably your first stop for just about any question that comes to mind.
When it comes to health questions, this is especially true.
While it's always important to talk to your healthcare provider regarding any concerns about your health, Googling health questions is not necessarily bad. It can be a way to learn about common health conditions and ways to stay healthy, especially when you use trustworthy sources.
In 2023, billions of questions have been typed into Google's search bar. Here are 5 of the most common Google health questions of this year so far — answered.
1. What are the symptoms of norovirus?
From November to April, we aren't just dealing with the woes of cold weather — many are also battling norovirus. As a result, people have turned to Google to find out if their or their loved one's symptoms point to this illness.
"Norovirus (also known as the stomach flu or stomach bug) is an extremely contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea in people of all ages," says Benjamin S. Yamane, DO, a family medicine physician at Main Line Health Care Internal Medicine at Lafayette Hill.
Every year, up to 21 million people are infected with norovirus. It's a particular concern among families with little ones, as schools and daycare centers are common settings of norovirus breakouts.
The most common symptoms of norovirus are:
- Stomach pain
You may also experience body aches, headaches and fever.
"The key is to avoid norovirus in the first place by washing your hands frequently, safely preparing and handling food and disinfecting surfaces," says Dr. Yamane. "If you or someone in your family does contract norovirus, there is no specific treatment. Instead, you should drink plenty of fluids and rest until you feel better."
2. What is cardiac arrest?
Just 2 days into this year, Damar Hamlin, a football player for the Buffalo Bills, suffered cardiac arrest after a tackle during a Monday Night Football game. While he was released from the hospital a week and a half later and has made remarkable progress since then, the situation was scary — and it sparked a lot of questions about cardiac arrest.
Cardiac arrest is not the same as a heart attack. While a heart attack is caused by a blockage in an artery, cardiac arrest is caused by a problem with the electrical system of the heart.
During cardiac arrest, your heart stops pumping and begins quivering, which isn't effective in getting blood to your brain and the rest of your body. If not treated, cardiac arrest can be fatal. That's why it's so important to call 911 immediately and begin using an AED device or administering CPR right away.
Damar Hamlin's experience also led to Google searches about another health condition called commotio cordis. Commotio cordis is when cardiac arrest occurs because of a forceful impact to the heart, such as a hit from a baseball or a tackle from another player. While not common, it's a scary reality that athletes must be aware of on the field.
3. What is frontotemporal dementia?
When celebrities or other public figures are diagnosed with a health condition, people often have questions. This year, Google became a resource to learn about frontotemporal dementia, a condition that actor Bruce Willis revealed he was diagnosed with after retiring from acting in the spring of 2022.
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a group of disorders that is caused by gradual nerve cell loss in the frontal lobes of the brain (behind your forehead) or the temporal lobes (behind your ears). It can lead to changes in behavior and personality as well as trouble with language.
In Bruce Willis's case, he has reported experiencing primary progressive aphasia, which is a speaking disorder that has two forms. In one form, a person loses their ability to understand or speak in sentences. In the other, a person has trouble speaking, speaks hesitantly or speaks ungrammatically.
"FTD is not the same as Alzheimer's disease. One of the major clues as to whether a person has FTD or Alzheimer's is the age of diagnosis, as FTD is usually diagnosed in their 40s to 60s. Alzheimer's is more common with older age," says Dr. Yamane.
4. What is Hashimoto's disease?
Also sparked by a celebrity diagnosis, Hashimoto's disease became a frequently searched term when model Gigi Hadid opened up about how this condition changed her body.
Hashimoto's disease is an autoimmune disorder (when the body's immune system attacks the body's organs and cells) that can lead to an underactive thyroid (called hypothyroidism), which is when the thyroid doesn't make enough hormones. Less commonly, it can lead to an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism).
Thyroid hormones are in charge of how your body uses energy. This means they affect almost every organ in your body, including your heart. If left untreated, hypothyroidism can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and high cholesterol.
There are many possible symptoms of Hashimoto's disease, including fatigue, joint pain, constipation and slow heart rate. People with Hashimoto's can also experience weight gain.
5. Where can I get a COVID-19 test?
COVID-19 might not seem as front-and-center as it did a few years ago, but it's not completely gone. What's more, other illnesses with similar symptoms, including the flu, the common cold and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), continue to be a threat.
As a result, many have turned to Google to find out where and how to get tested for COVID-19.
While Main Line Health isn't offering testing to the public, you can easily buy a COVID-19 test at most pharmacies or head to a community testing site. Don't forget — if you haven't already ordered your four free government-issued COVID-19 tests, you can still do so.
Using the internet resourcefully and responsibly
The internet, including Google searches, can be a good resource for certain kinds of health information. You can learn about the symptoms of a condition, ways to manage a diagnosed condition and how to stay healthy.
"Just remember that it's important to use trustworthy resources, such as websites managed by the government, hospitals and other healthcare providers," says Dr. Yamane.
What's more, if you're ever concerned about your health, your best resource is always your healthcare provider. They can help diagnose and treat conditions accurately and safely.