From RationalWiki
Jump to: navigation, search
One or two online tests don't make it official.
Against allopathy
Alternative medicine
Icon alt med alt.svg
Clinically unproven
A physician who treats himself has a fool for a patient.
—Dr. William Osler (1849-1919)[1]

Self-diagnosis, as the name would suggest, is when one attempts to diagnose oneself or family and friends when experiencing certain symptoms, typically with the help of symptom checkers found in books and, increasingly, the internet.

Symptom checkers may be useful for finding what one should do (e.g. whether to go to a pharmacy, book an appointment with their doctor, call an ambulance, etc.), but in and of themselves they are useless and potentially dangerous as they may result in the individual using ineffective treatments whilst snubbing help which is effective. Alternatively, the nocebo effect may make the person's condition feel even worse, resulting in them worrying more than is necessary.

The problem with this is that even when the symptom checker one is using is from a trustworthy source, the vast majority of people have no medical training and thus may have difficulty noticing things that a professional doctor or nurse may notice (it doesn't help that some different diseases may have similar symptoms) and also may not have access to equipment which may help them determine the cause of the symptoms.

Patterns in self-diagnosis[edit]

Psychiatric self-diagnosis is popular. People are more likely to diagnose themselves with mental conditions such as:

More far-fetched examples include self-diagnosing with dissociative identity disorder, or self-diagnoses that otherwise include existential woo such as "otherkin" and "therian" identities (which are not supported by scientific evidence), and other purported phenomena such as indigo children. While some otherkin people openly admit they're just doing it for fun or to cope while they're going through a hard time, other times these people are serious.

Some people self diagnose simply because they lack opportunities, or because other people refuse to help them.

  • The expense of seeing a doctor in the US is so high that many undiagnosed people or people suffering from mysterious symptoms had to make do with the internet.
  • Women[2][3] have tales about struggling to get doctors to take their symptoms seriously.
  • African Americans have huge issue with untreated and undiagnosed mental illnesses due to mental health issues being stigmatized in their communities.[4]
  • Minors with unhelpful or downright awful parents may not be able to see a doctor in order to seek proper diagnosis and treatment. Self-diagnosis on the internet can simply be a symptom of people desperate for answers.

In these situations, a change of circumstances (like a more understanding doctor or better health insurance) may lead to the person getting an accurate medical diagnosis.

And then other people have less logical reasons for self-diagnosing.

  • They need a scapegoat for issues with their own life.
  • They have illness anxiety disorder (formerly known as hypochondria), and worry excessively about their health.
  • They don't feel special, and think self-diagnosing will fix that.
  • They're attention seeking, and either haven't realized that they can just ask people to hang out with them, or have parents that are so legitimately awful that the child fakes a disorder in the hopes of finally getting some attention.

Attitudes towards self-diagnosed people[edit]


People who self diagnose may be mocked, especially online. Unfortunately, this can mean that teens who don't know any better, or people who actually do have a mental illness or disability, may be targeted unfairly.

Harassment over whether someone is faking an illness or disability is an issue on social media. Professionally diagnosed autistic people can be harassed over the validity of their diagnosis if they defend self-diagnosis.

Self-diagnosed people may also be accused of harming people who have been professionally diagnosed with various disabilities and conditions, and of causing these people to not be taken seriously. (Though some of these real disabled people have pointed out that they aren't taken seriously in the first place.[5])

It's worth pointing out that without a paper diagnosis, people can't access special resources at school or work, so they aren't taking away anything from people with confirmed disabilities.


Some communities show support and acceptance towards people who self-diagnose. This is more common in cases where a diagnosis can be difficult to obtain (e.g. autism). Autistic adults tend to embrace self-diagnosed autistics as part of their community, assuming that the person is likely autistic but unable to access appropriate resources at the moment.[6]

There is some logic behind this. For example, one clinician found that 88% of people who thought they were autistic received an autism diagnosis.[7] Thus, someone who thinks they are autistic is probably correct.

Comparison with factitious disorder[edit]

People who self diagnose are sometimes accused of being attention-seeking snowflakes.[8] They may be accused of having factitious disorder (formerly known as Munchausen syndrome), a condition in which a person fakes illness in order to receive sympathy.

However, people with factitious disorder tend to lie and say that they have a professional diagnosis when they do not. They don't say they are self-diagnosed.[9][10] People who self diagnose tend to be honest about it.

See also[edit]