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Papers of the Week

2020 02 06

Int J Environ Res Public Health



Analysis of Answers to Queries among Anonymous Users with Gastroenterological Problems on an Internet Forum.


Kamiński M, Borger M, Prymas P, Muth A, Stachowski A, Łoniewski I, Marlicz W
Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 02 06; 17(3).
PMID: 32041356.


Internet forums are an attractive source of health-related information. We aimed to investigate threads in the gastroenterological section of a popular Polish medical forum for anonymous users. We characterised the following aspects in threads: the main problem of the original poster, declared ailments and rationale of the responses (rational, neutral, harmful or not related to the problem of the original poster). We analysed over 2717 forum threads initiated in the years 2010-2018. Users mostly asked for diagnosis of the problem [1814 (66.8%)], treatment [1056 (38.9%)] and diagnostic interpretation [308 (11.3%)]. The most commonly declared symptoms were abdominal pain [1046 (38.5%)], diarrhea [454 (16.7%)] and bloating [354 (13.0%)]. Alarm symptoms were mentioned in 309 (11.4%) threads. From the total 3550 responses, 1257 (35.4%) were assessed as rational, 693 (19.5%) as neutral, 157 (4.4%) as harmful and 1440 (40.6%) as not related to the user's problem. The original poster's declaration of blood in stool, dyspepsia, pain in the abdominal right lower quadrant, weight loss or inflammatory bowel disease was positively related to obtaining at least one potentially harmful response. Advice from anonymous users on Internet forums may be irrational and disregards alarm symptoms, which can delay the diagnosis of life-threatening diseases.