By Robert Preidt
Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, and more than 600,000 people die from heart disease in the United States every year.
Researchers wondered if online searches for heart information varied seasonally, so they analyzed more than 10 years of Google data. They found that search volumes were 15 percent higher in the winter than in the summer in the United States and nearly 50 percent higher in winter than in summer in Australia.
The analysis also revealed that there are more searches about heart disease in regions of the United States with higher rates of heart disease deaths than in areas with lower rates.
Online search data could help estimate heart disease rates in specific regions, the researchers said.
The study was published Sept. 4 in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
"By showing that seasonal and geographic interest in seeking (heart disease) health information correlates with findings in real-world data, we show that Internet search-query data could potentially provide real-time information on (heart disease) in the community," lead investigator Dr. Nilay Kumar said in a journal news release. He's with the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
Other experts agree.
Internet search engines and social media postings can act like the proverbial "canary in the coal mine" in the early detection of disease trends, Dr. Joseph Murphy and Dr. R. Scott Wright wrote in an accompanying editorial. The cardiologists at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., also said searches and postings will "sing like a canary" in spreading important public health warnings.