Digital Diagnosis 2010: The Most Popular Health Stories of the Year

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We’ve all done it — searched medical conditions and symptoms online, hoping to self-diagnose what those mysterious red bumps are, and wishing against all odds that our search offers good news (“Please, please tell me these aren’t bedbug bites”).

Sometimes, the frequency of Internet searches for health information can signal a brewing epidemic. That’s how Google Flu Trends works, for instance — tracking flu-related searches to determine global flu activity.

But more often, what people search for online is simply a reflection of the latest news or gossip, even on medical websites. On Monday, WebMD, which logs more than 83 million visitors per month, released data on the top stories and searches that most held its readers’ interest over the past year. Not surprisingly, the site’s most popular story in 2010 was a slideshow about bedbugs, and its top trending search was “bedbugs” (in 2009, the top trending search was “head lice,” suggesting that people really like reading about creepy infestations). (More on TIME.com: How to Build Your Own Bedbug Detector)

WebMD’s second most popular trending search was “throat cancer,” another ripped-from-the-headlines area of interest: in August, actor Michael Douglas announced he was battling throat cancer, and images of his frail frame were splashed on the covers of tabloids. Douglas’ cancer was also the top celebrity-related health topic and the third biggest news story this year on WebMD. Last year, it was another celebrity’s health condition that came in second place in the top trending-searches list: “anal cancer.” In June 2009, actress Farrah Fawcett died after a long fight with the cancer.

Rounding out this year’s top five trending searches: in third place, whooping cough (No. 3 was swine flu in 2009); gluten (2009’s acai berry); and vitamin D (taking over from resveratrol last year).

What other health topics were popular with WebMD readers this year? The answer varies depending on whether you are a man or a woman. Most popular topics for women were menstrual problems, fatigue, super foods, thyroid problems, and sex and relationships. Not surprisingly, “sex life” landed the top spot in popular topics for men, followed by “questions about penis,” testosterone, flat abs and STDs. If you weren’t convinced of men’s obsession with sex before, this leaves little doubt. (More on TIME.com: Study: Does the Pill Lower Sex Drive?)

In the end, WebMD’s data may not say much about the physical health of the nation, but at least it confirms that you’re not the only one wondering about the 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Penis.

Click here for the full round-up on the top health searches, top health question and top shared stories of the year.

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