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Cyberchondria: Hypochondria and the internet

The tail end of Winter is a viral minefield.  Pure hell for obsessive compulsive health fanatics and hypochondriacs.  Even people who consider themselves without unjustified paranoia’s will find themselves turning to WebMD to see if the last week of sniffles is more than just a cold.  The all-seeing eye of the internet with its’ inexhaustible stockpile of knowledge is making it easier to self-diagnose thus propelling hypochondriacs into symptom-checking overdrive.

 

The dangers of Googling your gripes

All the members of my family are currently at varying stages of influenza.  Some can see the light at the end of the (still somewhat blocked) tunnel, others profess to being on their death beds.  Having had a cough for over a week now I can no longer assume that this is normal and will eventually clear up – of course it must be something more.  I’ve researched my symptoms on several sites and I am satisfied that I don’t have TB but it’s not impossible that my cold is complicating into pneumonia.  I know this because I’ve checked.

Whether your problems are real or imagined there are plenty of on-line options that will either dispel your fears or leave you feeling like you should get your affairs in order.  The term ‘cyberchondria’ was coined in the early 2000’s in British newspaper The Independent, to describe “the excessive use of internet health sites to fuel health anxiety.”  One of my favourite sites, WebMD.com is an excellent resource for fact-checking the safety of medicines, supplements, dosages, drug incompatibilities and whether your symptoms need professional medical attention.  It is one of the most trusted medical sites around but even they are quick to establish that they do not replace personal attention from your own doctor.  In fact it was on their site that I first saw the term ‘cyberchondria’ and read an article warning of the “vast and unregulated” medical information so easily accessible to us as well as the dangers of self-diagnosis and second-guessing real doctors.

cyberchondria

Google.com

According to the Huffington Post, people tend to misdiagnose the most embarrassing illnesses in a bid to avoid face-to face disclosure, with breast cancer, STI’s and depression among the most misdiagnosed diseases.  Because hypochondriacs are generally preoccupied with the diagnosis of vague ailments, quite harmless complaints like headaches and mild digestive issues are exaggerated to life-threatening disease like cancer and HIV.  The scope of possibilities is broad to say the least and people badly affected by cyberchondria will base their judgements almost entirely on case studies without considering that family history, general health, probability of infection and genetics have a huge part to play in individual health.

 Safely surfing your symptoms

Excessive internet use, in general, can be damaging and when it comes to your health it is important to remember that if you are indeed harbouring disease, the only way to be sure is to get tested yourself, in person, as no amount of browsing medical reports will put your mind at ease.  The Journal of Consumer Research, 2012 said of internet ‘clinics’ – “The whole situation seems designed to give people a match to some ailment, regardless of its probability.”  With that in mind it’s obvious that more than a dated thesis posted on-line will provide a definitive answer.

It’s important to make sure the information you’re looking at is as current as possible and to avoid Q & A sites where untrained individuals seeking attention and votes for the best answer are potentially posting harmful untruths.  Make sure you only use trusted sites and limit your anxiety by limiting the amount f time you spend obsessing about your health.

Here are a couple of the best on-line medical resources:

WebMD – http://www.webmd.com

Mayo Clinic –http://www.mayoclinic.com

 

 

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