Being Your Own Doctor

With so many resources available for a whole range of medical problems, more and more people are doctoring themselves. There are many different over-the-counter drugs readily available for many common maladies. People can self-diagnose with the help of home-testing kits of all different varieties.

The Early Show medical correspondent Emily Senay reports people are increasingly becoming more involved in their own health care. It's now quite easy for people to do their own medical research over the Internet, or even walk into a clinic and order up a CT scan to check for abnormalities. There are a lot of people walking around out there with their "AAD degrees" (Almost A Doctor degrees).

But nothing can really replace the experience and education of a doctor in diagnosing health problems. Sometimes common symptoms (such as headaches, back pain or a cough) can have a variety of causes, so it's not that easy even for a doctor.

Most people have no trouble identifying and treating common symptoms like congestion and cough from a cold. But sometimes they can signal more serious problems like flu or pneumonia. Back pain might be a kidney infection. If you don't see a doctor when symptoms persist, you might end up delaying treatment for a serious illness.

As for using over-the-counter drugs, as with any drug, it is important to read the directions and the warnings carefully before use.

To prevent over-the-counter drug dangers, Senay recommends:

  • Avoid overusing a drug.
  • See a doctor if symptoms don't improve after two weeks, because that may signal a more serious problem. You may not be getting the right treatment or getting inadequate treatment.
  • Be aware of side effects, even with approved drugs at recommended doses.
  • Watch out for warnings about drug interactions if you're taking more than one medication, and interactions with food, drink, or dietary supplement.
Overdose and adverse effects are risks if people take more than the recommended dosage. Taking multiple drugs, like the ones for colds and flu, can result in overdose if products with different brand names contain the same ingredient, like acetaminophen, which is toxic to the liver.

Senay says you need to involve your doctor when it comes to screening for medical conditions or using home-testing kits to monitor your health. It's possible to get accurate home tests for a variety of health issues like cholesterol, blood glucose, fertility, etc. But your doctor is really the best judge of what the results mean for you. The same goes for self-referred tests like CT scans. They can reveal minor abnormalities that may be nothing but that lead to invasive and unnecessary follow-up tests.