Internet searches about heart disease track geographical, seasonal hospitalization trends

Internet searchers of common heart disease symptoms closely resemble geographic and seasonal trends of coronary heart disease hospitalizations, according to a study to be presented at American College of Cardiology's 67th Annual Scientific Session.

"On an individual level, this study shows that people are not just searching for routine symptoms but symptoms that can be life-threatening," said Conor Senecal, MD, resident physician at Mayo Clinic and the study's lead author. "It suggests that what's presented to them online can have real-world impacts on their health."

In this study, researchers aimed to identify the relationship between searches relevant to heart disease including terms for heart attack symptoms and hospitalizations of coronary heart disease.  

To track search questions, researchers analyzed the frequency in which individuals used Google to search for terms like "chest pain," "chest discomfort," "chest pressure" or "angina." Results showed individuals used the internet to study heart symptoms, suggesting search trends could be used a resource in tracking heart disease.

"It's very expensive and burdensome to do well-done epidemiological studies," Senecal said. "Search data is an imperfect tool, but it may be able to provide some hints or clues into issues that could be further researched with more rigorous methods. It basically provides a cheap and easy way to take a first look at interesting questions. It's crucial moving forward that large search providers and public health officials work together to provide accurate information for these conditions through internet-based search. Patients should seek out reputable resources and, if they have any concerns, contact a physician."