Cyberchondria | Health anxiety

It’s been three days and that pain in your back is still there. You’re starting to get a bit worried, so you do a bit of research on the internet.

You enter the symptoms – aching, lower left-hand side, worse when you lie down and scan the results. Kidneys? Something renal? Surely not. Another search. Liver now. Hepatitis? That’s bad, isn’t it? Must be something else. One more search. Oh god – cancer. The symptoms fit goddam cancer. You’re dying.

Actually, you’re almost certainly not. What you are experiencing is a kind of Web-enabled hypochondria, dubbed “cyberchondria” or Health Anxiety, and it’s becoming increasingly common as more people visit the internet instead of the doctor’s office.

Research carried out by Imperial College London in 2017 states that at least 1 in 5 people in Britain attend medical clinics because of “abnormal health anxiety,” and the cost of this to the UK’s public health system is estimated to be £420m each year.

The term “cyberchondria” describes the anxiety one can experience as a result of excessive web searches about symptoms or diseases.

We’re all guilty of Googling symptoms from time to time and we may think a quick online search will save us time and money but studies show even people who don’t normally worry about their health can see their concerns spiral after conducting an initial web search.

Even though many health-related web resources are useful and reliable, problems do arise when people use the web to diagnose their own illnesses. For example, when a person types “headache” into a search engine they are as likely to get “brain tumour” rather than caffeine withdrawal”. Unfortunately, few people understand that the order in which these search results show up is related to click-through rates more than likelihood of occurrence of a given set of symptoms. Thus, anxiety and concern develop and alter judgment.

The Signs Of Cyberchondria

Cyberchondria is (using the acronym DIED):

  • Distressing: it causes a lot of distress, anxiety or fear
  • Impairing: it has an impact on your day-to-day life.
  • Excessive: searching for too long, or too often
  • Difficult to control: you have difficulty controlling, stopping or preventing searching

Real Dr vs Dr Google

Most people can spend up to 52 hours annually checking out health related information, but only see their primary care physician 3 times a year for a total of 45 min.

Why is it important for you to see your doctor over relying on a cyber diagnosis?

  • It’s always a better idea to visit your primary care physician and ask questions. Their years of training prepared them to look at more than just your symptoms. Sometimes what you don’t say is more powerful than what you do say and your body language speaks volumes
  • Many serious life-threatening conditions have common symptoms. If you decide nothing is wrong with you after searching the web, it can lead to fatal consequences.
  • An internet misdiagnosis could potentially have serious and money draining outcomes such as expensive tests that are needless and unwarranted.
  • Relying on untrustworthy websites which advocate buying unscientifically proven remedies to cure illnesses.

You should never make any diagnosis based solely on what you read on the internet. No website can replace a doctor’s appointment. If something worries you, don’t wait and call your doctor. That is a much better scenario than living in constant stress and fear of a disease you don’t even have.

On that note, sometimes gargling is better than googling antibiotics when you have a sore throat. ?

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