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Clinical Cases and Reviews in Epilepsy

An infodemiological study of online behavior for epilepsy-related search terms in Italy

Clinical trial, 87 - 92
doi: 10.11138/ccre/2016.1.1.087
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Abstract
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Objective: to evaluate and interpret changes over time of web search queries for terms related to epilepsy and epileptic seizures in Italy, and to evaluate any difference in online behavior for epilepsy-related search terms between Italians and English-speaking Internet users.
Methods: using Google trends, data on global search queries for the Italian terms “epilessia” (epilepsy), “crisi epilettica/che” (seizure/s); “convulsione/i” (convulsion/s) between January 2004 and October 2014 were analyzed. Furthermore, we used Googlefight to evaluate how often people search the engine Google to look for online information related to epilepsy and syncope.
Results: compared with January 2004, there was a reduction in tendency to search for the term “epilessia” (epilepsy) (-16%) and “convulsioni” (convulsions) (-22%), counterbalanced by an increased trend to search for the term “crisi epilettiche” (seizures) (+16%). Most terms associated with the search queries were related to symptoms and causes of seizure/s, epilepsy, or convulsion/s, and with seizures occurring in children and dogs. Despite a lifetime cumulative incidence approximately 10 times higher, the term “sincope” (syncope) was found to be only slightly more searched than the term “epilessia” (epilepsy) (150,000 versus 132,000 searches).
Conclusions: similarly to English-speaking users, most Italians appear to use Google to look for terms related to epilepsy to obtain information on seizure symptoms, possibly to aid initial self-diagnosis.
The number of searches related to epileptic events are surprisingly high, suggesting that Internet searches mirror patients’ fears and worries about seizures (and epilepsy), which are perceived as events with a higher seriousness than syncope.
Results of Google trends analyses do not automatically reflect epidemiologic data of the real world, but may nonetheless be used to generate hypotheses that could be confirmed or refuted by more rigorous classical epidemiological designs.

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