The Grapevine

Can Selfies Save Lives? 4 Health Problems They Could Help Identify

While they do come with a fair share of downsides for some people, selfies have also helped identify significant symptoms of medical conditions, important enough to save people's lives. Here are four instances where they proved to be valuable from a health perspective.

1. Stroke

Juanita Branch, 63, recently recalled how she suffered a stroke back in August. As she tried to take a picture of herself to post on Facebook, she noticed something unusual. One side of her face had started drooping, a sign that seemed to worsen with every selfie she took. 

After she was rushed to the hospital, doctors looked at the time stamp of her pictures and realized there was still enough time to administer a clot-busting drug known as tissue plasminogen activator (TPA).

"If we give TPA beyond that three-hour mark it could be dangerous. It can cause bleeding in the brain and can be life-threatening," explained Dr. Jason Muir, an emergency medicine physician affiliated with Henry Ford Macomb Hospitals.

2. Melanoma

For the early detection of skin cancer, the ABCDE rule highlights moles which are multi-colored, asymmetrical, larger than a pea, have a ragged border or have evolved in any way.

Cloe Jordan, 21, was born with a mole on her stomach which eventually started to grow in size and change color. While initially dismissing the symptoms, she later decided to see a doctor about getting the mole removed because it had begun "getting in the way" of her bikini selfies. 

After a few tests, she was diagnosed with melanoma and had her mole surgically removed. Aside from knowing skin cancer symptoms, Jordan also highlighted the importance of UV protection, whether it's wearing sunscreen outdoors or avoiding harmful tanning beds.

3. Depression

In a 2017 study by Harvard University and the University of Vermont, researchers analyzed the Instagram feeds of 166 volunteers who also revealed their mental health history.

They identified a few visual markers in the posts of those with depression: the tendency to use darker tones of blue or gray, a lesser number of people in photos (possibly indicating more selfies and fewer group photos), and a preference for the inkwell filter when compared to healthy people. The program had a 70 percent success rate in spotting depressed people. 

But a sense of caution is important, especially for concerned parents. (After all, some of us just simply like the color blue.) Instead, one can consider looking for other accompanying signs of depression.

4. Parasite 

Taking selfies helped a 32-year-old woman document a bump that seemed to be moving around her face as she traveled through a rural area in Russia. The case study, published in 2018, revealed the bump to be a parasitic worm.

The photos proved to be important since the bump can disappear and reappear, making the patient wonder if they are imagining it. 

"Doctors who are not familiar with the disease don't believe ... the patients. That's why I asked the patient to make selfies," said Dr. Vladimir Kartashev, who treated the patient.