Toronto doctor leads study on ‘nocebo effect’

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Dr. Baiju Shah, a senior scientist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre Shah is the lead investigator on a new study called “Does Googling Lead to Statin Intolerance?”, which will be published in the International Journal of Cardiology in the next few months.

His team of researchers reviewed patient intolerance to statins — a common cholesterol-lowering drug — in 13 countries across five continents. They then compared the recorded intolerance rate to the availability of websites that discuss the adverse effects of statins, through each country’s Google search engine.

Countries that had the largest number of websites about side-effects — the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia — had the highest rate of statin intolerance compared to countries in Asia and Eastern Europe, where intolerance levels are lower.

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That prompted Shah’s team to investigate whether there was a link between the two.

Here are a few things to consider before you google something medically related:

1. Don’t just Google.
Before blind Googling, for instance, check the Alzheimer’s Society website,, for information on dementia. And if in doubt, NHS England has a list of certified organisations to consult when looking for accurate information. Ditto any other medical problem.

2. Try to be specific.
Vague search terms will result in frightening answers, says Seymour – and practically any symptom can be read as a sign for cancer or some other horrible illness.

3. Try not to worry.
Rare conditions are rare, and minor symptoms often resolve themselves in time. If you have more worrying symptoms, including bleeding from anywhere (unless you have haemorrhoids), or if your symptoms are changing or progressing, then visit your GP.

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4. Try going offline.
Pharmacists are medically-trained, and you don’t need an appointment to get their advice, points out Dr Hamed Khan. Friends and family might also be able to offer sensible help with minor illnesses such as coughs and colds.

5. Be open to being wrong.
When you see your GP be open to a discussion about the research you have done – your symptoms may have other causes, says Seymour, and other treatments may be more appropriate.

6. Don’t hand over money.
Or at least, don’t buy tests or medicines from websites without checking with your GP beforehand. And don’t treat yourself without checking with your doctor first. “I just had a patient today with diarrhoea who thought drinking Coca-Cola would help her,” says another GP. “If anything, it made things worse.” – CINEWS

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