Sally Hall: Beware Dr Internet or you will be jumping through hoops

Circus performer Eleanor McCarthy with her hula hoops. PIC: Gerard Binks
Circus performer Eleanor McCarthy with her hula hoops. PIC: Gerard Binks
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Never look up your medical symptoms on the internet.

As soon as you do, a snotty nose suddenly becomes the harbinger of killer-flu.

That slight rash under your bra-strap indicates the onset of some hideous flesh-eating disease.

It’s a slippery slope to hypochondria, and we should all know better.

Recently, though, a colleague returned to work outraged after going to see her GP.

‘When I told the doctor my symptoms, she blatantly Googled them, right in front of me,’ the colleague reported.

I guess the temptation is too great to resist – even for medical professionals.

(Although the GP in question could at least have used a search engine with an illusion of medical credibility, rather than one which required scrolling through a dozen LOLcatz and selfies of Kim Kardashian wearing a bikini before Dr Google could even begin to identify the source of my colleague’s abdominal pain...)

So, when an athletic friend posted a query on Facebook last week, I ignored the golden rule (well, if a doctor can ignore it, why can’t I?) and went online to investigate.

“Can I injure myself from doing too much hula hooping?” my friend had wondered.

Unsurprisingly, the oracle of Google answered in the affirmative.

“Stop immediately,” I texted my friend. “You’re at risk of developing hula hoop intestine!”

I’d found an article that featured a long list of bizarre ailments – including the cautionary case of Chinese patient Zu Denghai, who was rushed to hospital in agony with a twisted intestine caused by excessive gyrating. He was the third patient to be admitted with the condition in a week, after a sudden craze for the hula hoop swept through provincial China 21 years ago.

Of course, the sensible advice is to warm up properly first and avoid hula hooping on a full stomach. As my grandma used to say, a little bit of what you fancy does you good – and hula hooping is no exception to this rule.

But after reading the article I wasn’t feeling very sensible.

Instead, I was wondering if my inappropriate sense of humour could be an indication of Witzelsucht, a German word meaning ‘joke addiction’. Sufferers compulsively pun, tell silly jokes and act childishly.

Finally, an explanation for all the times I’ve made my friends and family cringe.

Or what about uncombable hair syndrome, when hair can be knot-free, clean and untangled but still impossible to style.

That particular diagnosis probably sounds familiar to many of us.

Luckily, I can rule out fish-odour syndrome, exploding head syndrome or Alice in Wonderland syndrome. But chronic lateness syndrome could explain a lot....

Reading just one article of this sort was enough to turn up my ‘health anxiety’ dial to 11.

No wonder one of my journalist friends once had to quit her position as health editor on a national magazine.

Her job caused a chronic case of hypochondria (which, incidentally, is a common phenomenon among first-year medics – itself called Medical Student Syndrome)

One morning, she rushed to A&E in a panic, convinced she had bowel cancer.

Telling the doctor she’d seen several clots of blood in the toilet bowl, he gazed at her with a quizzical expression.

“What did you have to eat last night?” he asked.

Only then did my friend remember she’d eaten borscht – beetroot soup – for tea. Shame-faced, she returned to the magazine office resolving to look for another job.

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