Why do I start to feel sick when I read medical information?
December 14, 2017 9:55 AM   Subscribe

I am interested in learning more about a couple of medical conditions that I may have, but I keep getting light-headed and feeling a bit sick or nauseated when I read about them; I have to stop reading. Can anything be done to reduce the effect?

My mouth also starts to water when this happens. I'm not reading about gory conditions or anything like that. One example would be reading about age-related macular degeneration. So the cause of this feeling seems somehow psychological. It happens when I read about others' unrelated cases as well. Can I do anything about this? I would like to go deeper into my research without having to stop short all the time because of this problem. Thanks!
posted by circular to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Both serious and unserious: you might enjoy Three Men in a Boat, which poked a bit of fun at this problem back in 1889. I experience this, too, and sometimes it helps to giggle at myself and think, "oh, housemaid's elbow!" when the medical stuff makes me queasy. A boat trip is probably not feasible, but it certainly sounds like a good idea.

You could try taking notes while you're reading, both for clarity and retention as well as to give part of your brain something to do other than dwell in the wrong way on what you're reading. Depersonalizing the subject matter is easier when you're doing something other than just reading.

Without going as far as anti-nausea medications (or anxiety medications), you could try having snacks that are easy when you're nauseated, like crackers and ginger ale. If taking these steps (and taking breaks regularly, as you should probably do when studying anything) doesn't help enough to allow you to do the research you need to do, it might be time to seek medical assistance.
posted by asperity at 10:25 AM on December 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would guess this is anxiety. Light-headedness and nausea can happen as a result of anxiety, and reading about medical conditions you may have is certainly something that could reasonably be expected to cause anxiety.

Is researching these conditions really likely to help anything? How likely is it that you’re actually going to get these conditions? Is your research finding actual concrete steps you can take that will help? Steps that are verified by actual peer-reviewed scientific research, not just some supplements recommended by a website that sells supplements? If the answer to any of these is “no” or “not very likely”, then you might be causing yourself distress for no really good reason.
posted by Anne Neville at 10:27 AM on December 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I get this way, regardless of whether or not I have the medical condition. For me, it is definitely anxiety. I don't often suffer from intrusive thoughts, but this is one of those triggers for me. I feel as if I can see/experience myself being cut open, exposing the organ or body part being described, and can imagine what experiencing the condition might be like. Anxiety management (breathing & centering exercises) has helped me to an extent, but I've never pursued medication or therapy for this specifically.

That said, just reading "macular degeneration" in your question brought on a strong wave of nausea and light-headedness just now.
posted by pammeke at 10:37 AM on December 14, 2017

Best answer: It’s VERY common to convince yourself from reading about medical conditions that you have them. It’s called medical student’s disease. I once diagnosed myself with fatal insomnia this way (I got better).
posted by Anne Neville at 10:56 AM on December 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: > crackers and ginger ale

Thank you for the recommendation!

> taking breaks regularly

I'll bet I'm not doing this enough for my tolerance levels. Good one.

> I would guess this is anxiety.

Anxiety is an interesting idea that I hadn't really considered yet, thank you. I can definitely deal with anxiety, so maybe I'll try some of the old anxiety tools against this problem and see how they work.

> Is researching these conditions really likely to help anything?

Yes, in the past I learned that I can beat (more generalized) anxiety by researching these topics and facing them head-on. Since then I've started to build web pages about these maladies and flesh the information out over time in order to help others seeking information, while coming to a more accurate, nuanced picture of my own health situation. This does reduce my overall anxiety & risk of depression, according to my own metrics.

> reading about medical conditions you may have

I should clarify; these are not just random possibility-illnesses. Multiple easily-identifiable symptoms indicate that I have these conditions and am probably one blood test away from confirming them. I've already spoken to a rheumatologist and an opthamologist, people to whom people with specific symptoms of these conditions (not the macular degen; more in-your-face stuff) are commonly referred to follow up for care. They have offered advice to treat symptoms, which is about all I can do except get tested and involve more instrumentation in my follow up to make sure I don't end up with more severe complications that lead to cancer. I do hesitate to discuss my personal details online, so "may have" has become part of my vocabulary that can throw people off. It's really more like "do have, pending final testing and possible re-testing".

I usually stick with NIH & PubMed to stay up to date, though I have tried some physician-recommended diets to loop in any subjective differentiators (no measured difference with the diets at all).

> I feel as if I can see/experience myself being cut open

Thank you for sharing this. It also resonates that I may have some kind of a secondary self-identification stream going on where I'm suffering / being treated and my mind at some primitive level is experiencing that. However it's not really conscious while I'm researching. This may yield some clues for anti-anxiety exercises or meditations; I'll have to think about that more.

> I once diagnosed myself with fatal insomnia this way (I got better).

lol! Sorry to hear that happened to you. I am kind of the reverse in a way--people kept telling me something was wrong (my symptoms are really visible) until I gave in and started seeking professional advice and doing research.

Thanks for the replies so far, this has been really helpful.
posted by circular at 11:01 AM on December 14, 2017

Best answer: Vasovagal response. Welcome to my world.
posted by humboldt32 at 11:44 AM on December 14, 2017 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: > Vasovagal response

This is interesting, I look forward to learning more about it! Thank you.
posted by circular at 12:54 PM on December 14, 2017

Best answer: I have a tendency to faint when given an IV. I did some research, and one can work to avoid fainting by drinking 8-12 oz water, and also by tightening your thigh muscles. Both of these things tend to raise blood pressure, and it is the physiological lowering of blood pressure which leads to the fainting. They work pretty well for me.
posted by JimDe at 1:44 PM on December 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

I get this when reading about anything having to do with the circulatory system, especially veins. The first time I noticed it was during a filmstrip in 4th grade about blood cells and vessels. You can imagine how fun blood draws are for me, and I couldn't even get through the AskMe thread a while back about how to get through a blood draw. My husband warned me not to listen to a certain episode of Radiolab while driving because it talked about blood vessels and had a recurring heartbeat sound.

I also can't read about uterine and ovary stuff. I really wanted to read Woman: An Intimate History but I kept getting woozy in like the first 3 chapters. This is probably one of the 10,000 reasons I never had a baby. I want to read this book so maybe I'll try taking a Xanax and trying again.
posted by matildaben at 2:01 PM on December 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Perhaps you have a case of Medical Students' Disease.
posted by rhizome at 2:02 PM on December 14, 2017

Best answer: I have this. It is a vasovagal response (as cited upthread) and it is super duper annoying. I will get sick listening to, for example, descriptions of hallucinations -- even though I've hallucinated in the past and the actual experience didn't bother me a bit! It's so dumb. My only trick has been noticing as soon as I start to get dizzy and going off and doing something else for a few minutes rather than trying to power through reading the article, which will inevitably make me get sicker. This is how I avoid fainting -- the only times I've actually fainted as a result of this were situations where it was hard to get away from the stimulus (e.g. classroom lecture). Sorry I don't have any better tips.
posted by phoenixy at 9:22 PM on December 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

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