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general advice

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How should the Isabel Symptom Checker be used?

  • The first and most important step to using Isabel is to decide which symptoms to enter. Ideally symptoms should be entered in medical language so “abdominal pain” is better than “tummy hurts”, for example. We know that this can be difficult as a layperson, so we have adapted the system to understand as much non-medical language as possible. If you have already seen a doctor or several doctors about your symptoms, then hopefully they may have told you what they are in medical language.
  • If you have had the symptoms for a long time and had several test results after seeing various specialists then don’t just enter everything in one go. Instead, try to put together a chronology of the first symptoms to appear and try with those, and then add the ones that developed later and then the abnormal test results you have received.
  • Please note that test results need to be entered as text and not in numbers. In other words you should enter high (e.g. “high blood pressure” and not 180/120), low (“low platelet count” rather than platelet count of 15,000) or the medical term that you may have been given such as “neutropenia” (low number of white blood cells). Isabel works best with the important, early symptoms so, sometimes, if you enter too much information it can give a less good result as it gets confused by all the “noise”.
  • Patient Checking Their Symptoms
  • When you first see the results you may well be overwhelmed or alarmed. If you entered the right symptoms then, generally, the correct diagnosis will be in the top ten or twenty suggestions. However, if you enter just one common symptom like fever, then there are literally hundreds of diseases that could be the cause. It is important to remember that Isabel’s list of suggestions are just diagnostic possibilities and are not listed in any order of likelihood for you in particular. It is the job of your doctor to work out with you, which are most likely.
  • Some of the diagnoses suggested will be very alarming such as cancers etc. This only means that, based on the symptoms entered, this is a diagnostic possibility but you are probably still very unlikely to have it. It is important that you carefully read up on the diagnosis before reaching any conclusions. The common symptoms of cancer are also those that can be caused by many less serious illnesses and this is why cancers will often appear on the results list. A cough or hoarseness, for example, is most likely to be caused by an inflammation or infection but it could also be cancer of the larynx (voice box). The key indicator is how long you have had the symptom for and whether it is getting better or worse. If you have had it for more than 3 or 4 weeks then you should get it checked by your doctor.
  • Each diagnosis is linked to various knowledge sources such as Medline Plus, Wikipedia, NHS Choices etc. You should read up on each diagnosis to see how well your symptoms fit with what they describe and then make a judgement as to whether this is something you feel you should discuss with your doctor. This process should enable you to ask the key question of your doctor “doctor I know you think I have disease x but could you please explain to me why you don’t think it could be disease y or z which appear to fit or explain my symptoms very well?”