- Scott Morgan/Reuters
- Cyberchondria is the tendency to self-diagnose health problems online to anxiety-producing results.
- With the proliferation of the internet, cyberchondria has become more and more common.
- In September, researchers at the Imperial College London estimated that trips to hospital clinics for internet-induced healthy anxieties cost the National Health Institute £420 million a year in outpatient appointments alone.
If you’ve ever researched your health problems online to anxiety-producing results, you’re not alone.
A Pew Research study indicates that 35% of Americans take to the internet to diagnose their health maladies using sites like WebMD, Mayo Clinic, and Everyday Health.
But diagnosing yourself on the internet too often can pose its own unique dilemma: For instance, a quick Google search of the word “cough” produces a buffet of prognoses to choose from. WebMD’s symptom checker generates more than 50 results for “cough,” ranging in severity from the common cold to esophageal cancer. The same goes for a search for “toe numbness.” An internet diagnosis could lead you to believe that you’re afflicted with anything from an ingrown toenail to a spinal tumor to a stroke.
The availability of information on the web has a tendency to exaggerate fears about our health, and it turns out, there’s a name for this particular type of internet-induced anxiety. It’s called “cyberchondria,” and if you’ve ever combed the internet for hours at a time searching for health advice, have deep-seated fears about contracting various diseases, and generally grow anxious when reading health diagnoses online, you might just have it.
Cyberchondria is a relatively new problem (the term was coinedsometime inthe early 2000s), but with the proliferation of high-speed internet and smartphones, instances of cyberchondria are growing more and more common. In September, researchers at the Imperial College London estimated that trips to hospital clinics for internet-induced healthy anxieties cost the National Health Institute £420 million a year in outpatient appointments alone.
One proposed solution to deter cyberchondria comes from researchers at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, who have suggested experts annotate their online diagnoses with statistics on incidence and prevalence of a given malady. Still, doctors and researchers suggest that health information online isn’t all bad; after all, technology has provided an ideal medium for millions to manage and maintain their health.
However, if you believe your internet research is making your symptoms worse, it’s probably best to skip the internet diagnosis altogether and head straight to the doctor.