You may have the Idiot Syndrome if you…

The internet has made it easy to find information on almost any topic, including health. However, an internet search can easily turn into a full-blown self-diagnosis as many people use online resources to look up their symptoms and find treatments. But this can often be problematic and lead to the IDIOT syndrome, according to a 2022 study published in the National Institutes of Health‘s journal Cureus.  

IDIOT stands for ‘Internet Derived Information Obstruction Treatment.’ It happens when people rely on online information instead of seeking proper medical advice, often resulting in wrong self-diagnoses and harmful self-treatment. 

This issue is especially common with health advice from social media influencers, where misleading trends can go viral and lead people astray.

Understanding the influence of social media on health misinformation

Neha Cadabam senior psychologist and executive director at Cadabam Hospitals, says, “With the explosion of social media, there’s been a notable rise in health influencers who, despite their best intentions, often spread misinformation, inadvertently fueling what’s known as IDIOT syndrome—where internet-derived information hinders proper treatment.”

These influencers share various health tips and trends without robust scientific backing, leading their vast audiences away from medically sound advice.

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Spotlight on some viral health fads

Social media platforms have seen their fair share of health fads that lack medical endorsement, according to Cadabam. Some of them are:

Detox Teas: Popular for their promises of rapid weight loss, these teas may contain natural laxatives like senna, which can disrupt the body’s electrolyte balance and digestive health.

Extreme Fasting: Unlike scientifically-supported intermittent fasting, more extreme versions can lead to severe nutritional deficiencies.

Homemade Sunscreens: Viral DIY sunscreen recipes are particularly dangerous as they often fail to protect adequately against harmful UV rays, increasing the risk of skin damage.

idiot syndrome Social media platforms have seen their fair share of health fads that lack medical endorsement (Source: Freepik)

Countering misinformation: a role for healthcare professionals

“Healthcare professionals can combat misinformation by establishing a stronger online presence to offer accurate, evidence-based advice,” says Cadabam. Engaging directly through social media, webinars, and interactive sessions can help bridge the gap between professional healthcare and social media influenced advice.

Enhancing media literacy

According to Cadabam, individuals can protect themselves from misleading information by taking the following steps:

*Verifying Sources: Always check the credibility of health information sources, prioritising information from established medical institutions or certified health professionals.

*Consultation Before Action: Before adopting any new health practice, consulting with a healthcare provider can safeguard against potential risks.

*Utilising Reputable Resources: Turning to respected health education websites can foster a better understanding and critical evaluation of health information.

These approaches, she says, help navigate the complex landscape of online health content, ensuring that decisions are informed, safe, and beneficial for long-term well-being.

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