- The sexually transmitted diseases chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are at an all-time in the United States, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
- According to a study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, more people are turning to Reddit to get an STD diagnosis, either without going to the doctor or after going to the doctor but apparently not being satisfied with what they learned.
- According to Dr. John W. Ayers, a co-author of the study, crowd diagnoses have likely taken off because using that platform takes a fraction of the time it takes to see a doctor. Limited access to STD care could also play a role.
- The trend is alarming because it can lead to misdiagnoses, which can contribute to the spread of STDs and leave patients with ineffective treatments.
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The sexually transmitted diseases chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are at an all-time in the United States according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and the ways in which people with STDs are seeking proper diagnoses could be contributing to the problem.
According to a study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, an increasing number of people are turning to the social media site Reddit to get an STD diagnosis either without going to the doctor or after going to the doctor but apparently not being satisfied with what they were told.
The researchers at UC San Diego in California who conducted the study specifically looked at the user exchanges on the r/STD message board between November 2010, when Reddit launched, through February 2019.
They found that use of the message board doubled starting in November 2018 and that 58% of people who posted on r/STD explicitly requested other r/STD members help diagnose their STDs. Just over 30% of that 58% even posted images of their symptoms to assist with the process.
The researchers also found 87% of the messages requesting diagnoses help were met with replies, and usually multiple. The median time it took for a reply to a request for diagnosis on Reddit was three hours.
According to Dr. John W. Ayers, a co-author of the study, this crowd-diagnosis trend has likely taken off because it only takes a fraction of the time it takes to see a doctor. Dr. Davey Smith, another co-author, said STD-related shame and lack of access to proper diagnosis and treatment facilities may also push people to use the internet as a diagnostic tool.
The trend is alarming, the researchers wrote in a press release, because it can lead to misdiagnoses that could “result in the continued spread of the disease, but may also have a ripple effect for the millions who view the post and perceive they have a similar condition which they then wrongly self-diagnose.”
Untreated STDs can lead to severe health problems and spread to newborns
Along with the shame that often comes along with having an STD, the infections can also have severe medical consequences if left untreated or mistreated, which is a problem the study authors fear is becoming increasingly common.
“Although crowd-diagnoses have the benefits of anonymity, speed, and multiple opinions, many are wildly inaccurate,” co-author Dr. Christopher Longhurst said. The research team also noted that home remedies like apple cider vinegar were common fixes on r/STD even though the ingredient has never been shown to treat STDs.
If a person with gonorrhea or chlamydia goes untreated, they could develop pelvic inflammatory disease, which can lead to infertility or ectopic pregnancies where the foetus grows outside of the uterus and cannot survive, according to the CDC. For men, not getting treatment for these two STDs can result in chronic and severe pain in the testicles and in rare cases, infertility.
Untreated STDs can also increase a person’s chance of developing HIV or spreading HIV to a partner.
The crowd-diagnosis trend could inform doctors on how to better help patients
Although crowd diagnoses can lead to dangerous consequences, the study authors believe the concept could also be helpful in informing doctors on how to best educate their patients about STDs.
“By studying crowd-diagnoses broadly we could identify what conditions and what types of information the public is willing to share and build out evidence-based resources to match those needs,” Longhurst said.
Ayers added that if doctors work with social media sites like Reddit to combat misinformation, the platform’s crowd-diagnosis trend could be used to “substantially improve public health.”
- The first chlamydia vaccine could soon be on its way. The common STI can lead to infertility, chronic pain, and an increased risk of HIV.
- You can have an STD and show zero symptoms – here’s how to find out if you’re infected
- There’s a ‘hidden epidemic’ of diseases like chlamydia and syphilis, and dating apps may only be part of the problem
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