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Google's top trending health questions of 2018

While it's not always a good idea to Google your symptoms to diagnose an illness or source of pain, the internet can be a useful tool for learning about health. This year, people turned to "Dr. Google" to answer their questions on health questions ranging from the keto diet to ALS to endometriosis and much more.

Google has compiled data on the top trending health-related questions searched in the United States in 2018. While these were not necessarily the most frequently asked health questions, they were the topics that showed the greatest increase in searches over the previous year.

Here's a closer look at the health questions at the top of Americans' minds.

1. What is the keto diet?

Google says the top trending health question of 2018 was people looking for information on the ketogenic, or keto, diet.

The diet involves drastically reducing your intake of carbohydrates and replacing them with fats, forcing the body into a state of ketosis — when you burn fat instead of carbohydrates for energy. The notoriously restrictive diet calls for its followers not only to reduce intake of unhealthy carbs like sugar but also those that are normally considered healthy, like most fruits and certain vegetables.

The keto diet is popular, but is it good for you? 15:16

Research has show that a ketogenic diet can help control seizures in children with epilepsy and may be beneficial to people with type 2 diabetes, but in 2018 it garnered particular interest for its potential weight loss benefits.

However, because it is so restrictive and difficult to adhere to, dietitians generally do not recommend the diet for weight loss.

2. What is ALS disease?

This year, people were also interested in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. Also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, it is a neurodegenerative disorder that attacks and kills the nerve cells that control muscle movement.

Over time, patients with ALS have difficulty chewing, walking, breathing and talking. Most die from respiratory failure within three to five years. ALS is rare, with a little more than 5,000 Americans diagnosed each year, according to the ALS Association.

World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking died of ALS in March 2018 at the age of 76. Hawking was diagnosed with ALS as a 21-year-old Ph.D. student and told he had only one or two years to live. Instead, he became a rare longtime survivor, though he spent much of the rest of his life in a wheelchair and largely unable to speak except through a voice synthesizer.

Remembering Stephen Hawking 01:53

There is currently no cure for ALS.

3. What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis is an often painful disorder in women in which the endometrium, or the tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus, grows outside of the uterus.

Curiosity about it spiked in February 2018, when writer and actress Lena Dunham wrote a personal essay for Vogue in which she talked about her decision to undergo a hysterectomy due to complications with endometriosis.

The disease affects roughly 1 in 10 women during their reproductive years. There is no cure but symptoms can be treated with pain medication or hormone therapy. Surgery can also be performed to remove the endometriosis tissue. Surgery to remove the uterus and ovaries was once considered the most effective treatment for endometriosis but doctors have been moving away from that approach in recent years.

4. How long does weed stay in your urine?

With more states legalizing medical and recreational marijuana in 2018, Google saw an increase in questions about the drug.

There is no standard answer on how long marijuana is detectable in urine since it varies according to dose.  According to a 2017 study looking at the effectiveness of drug testing, marijuana can be detectable in urine for anywhere between 1 to 30 days after the last use.

5. How long does the flu last?

The 2017-18 flu season was the worst in nearly a decade and prompted plenty of Googling by people concerned about the illness.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults typically develop flu symptoms one to four days after becoming infected with the influenza virus. The majority of people get better after about three to seven days, though some symptoms like coughing and fatigue can persist for two weeks or more.

However, young children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to complications like pneumonia and additional infections, which can last much longer and lead to hospitalization and even death.

6. How long is the flu contagious?

People also turned to Google to find out how long the flu is contagious. According to the CDC, people with the flu are most contagious in the first three to four days of the illness.

Healthy adults may be able to pass the flu virus to others beginning one day before symptoms emerge and up to five to seven days after getting sick. That means it's possible to infect others even before you know you are sick.

Children and people with weakened immune systems may be able to pass the virus for longer than a week.

Generally, kids should be kept home from school for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone.

7. When does implantation bleeding occur?

Women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant may have questions about when implantation bleeding — typically defined as a small amount of light spotting or bleeding after conception — occurs.

The bleeding is thought to happen when the fertilized egg attaches to the lining of the uterus. According to the Mayo Clinic, this happens about 10 to 14 days after conception.

8. Why am I always tired?

It's no secret millions of Americans are overworked and sleep-deprived, and many turned to Google this year with questions about their fatigue.

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), most adults should be getting seven to 10 hours of sleep per night. The foundation also recommends making sleep a priority by following simple habits like sticking to a sleep schedule, practicing a relaxing bedtime ritual, exercising daily, sleeping on a comfortable mattress and pillow, avoiding electronics before bed, and avoiding alcohol and caffeine.

The foundation says to talk to your doctor if you're experiencing daytime sleepiness when you'd normally expect to feel awake or alert; if you snore or have difficulty breathing while asleep; or have prolonged insomnia or other symptoms that are preventing you from sleeping well.

9. What does heartburn feel like?

Many people turned to Google this year to learn about the symptoms of heartburn. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, more than 60 million Americans report having heartburn at least once a month.

The telltale sign of heartburn is a burning sensation in the chest just behind the breastbone that occurs after eating and lasts anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. Other symptoms include chest pain (especially after lying down or bending over), a burning feeling in the throat, difficulty swallowing, and hot, sour, or acidic taste in the back of the throat. It occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus.

Certain eating habits can lead to heartburn, including eating large portions or foods like onions, garlic, tomatoes, chocolate, foods high in fat, citrus fruits and spicy foods. Drinking alcohol, smoking, stress, and eating shortly before bedtime can also bring on heartburn.

Heartburn can often be controlled with changes to lifestyle and eating habits. Medication is also available to relieve symptoms.

10. What causes high blood pressure?

High blood pressure is one of the most common chronic health conditions in the United States, affecting more than 100 million Americans, according to the American Heart Association. Many turned to Google in 2018 to find out its cause.

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is when a person's blood pressure, or the force of blood flowing through blood vessels, is consistently too high. Known as "the silent killer," it raises the risk of stroke, heart attacks, and early death.

New blood pressure guidelines 01:52

High blood pressure can be caused by a number of factors, including an unhealthy diet high in salt, fat, and/or cholesterol, lack of exercise, being overweight or obese, tobacco use, drinking too much alcohol, stress, chronic conditions such as diabetes and kidney and hormone problems, and a family history of the condition. Some medications, including certain forms of birth control, may also lead to high blood pressure.

Treatment for the condition includes lifestyle changes and medications to lower blood pressure.

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