The internet made of a lot of things easier, particularly accessing knowledge from sectors as varied as fixing a computer, dancing flamenco, to researching disease and medical conditions.
The anxiety takes form in their repeated visits to their doctors, with lists of maladies and symptoms that they compiled from the internet. The repeated tests not only do not persuade those who suffer from cyberchondria, instead it makes them believe that they have a condition which has not been diagnosed properly.
In this light, regular people can now look up medical conditions and researching on diseases and other maladies based on what they are experiencing. This has led to self-diagnosis and an anxiety-related condition called “cyberchondria” which has been making a bold impact, albeit not so positively, among netizens.
Information about diseases as they are published online is different from the information given by a health professional. The doctor can give context and meaning to the symptoms. It is also his job to narrow down the diagnosis according to your experience. Without this context, the information from the internet can be misinterpreted.
Doctors take years of training, medical school, and experience to understand an illness on a deeper level, not just know the symptoms at surface level. On the contrary, internet users have let their curiosity get the better of them. Cyberchondria, otherwise called compucondria, is like hypochondria, but fueled by information from the internet. Even the name itself is a portmanteau of the terms cyber- and hypochondria. Users compulsively look up their conditions online, and inexplicably feel these symptoms themselves. The anxiety caused by reading about these diseases has resulted in an escalation of cases where people have a fear from the things they read online, which at times is a misdiagnosis.
Symptoms of Cyberchondria
Some of the symptoms of cyberchondria include:
- Excessive time spent online checking for symptoms.
- You feel anxious about your conditions, and you start checking online.
- You seek help or validation from other people online, especially on social media, chat rooms, and forums.
- You seek medical help more often than you see your friends.
- Besides the anxiety, you are in medically stable condition.
What is disconcerting is that cyberchondria is affecting a growing number of cases based on a research out of the Imperial College London and King’s College London. The team of researchers is recommending that cyberchondria be considered as an anxiety-related condition, and that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) should draw up guidelines on managing it.
The National Health Service (NHS) estimates that more than £420 million a year is spent on outpatient appointments, with millions more spent on unnecessary tests and scans. There is an estimate that up to one in five of outpatients suffers from health anxiety, and of these, only ten percent are diagnosed for anxiety.
According to Dr. Helen Tyrer, senior clinical research fellow at the Imperial College London, the condition is also characterized by unfounded fear and excessive worry which do disappear despite reassurance from physicians. The anxiety can be triggered by an event such as a family member dying from a particular disease, or even a celebrity of the same age acquiring a condition. The idea is that since they are related or are of the same age as a celebrity, they feel that they are also susceptible to illness. They are also convinced that their medical condition is worse than it is.
The anxiety takes form in their repeated visits to their doctors, with lists of maladies and symptoms that they compiled from the internet. The repeated tests not only do not persuade those who suffer from cyberchondria, instead it makes them believe that they have a condition which has not been diagnosed properly. This leads to further tests and the costs pile up even more.
Cyberchondria is something that educators and medical professionals should learn how to address. It is present in various countries and happening to people regardless of age, rank, or status. The availability of so much information has a bold impact in society and people’s lives, and this by-product of the internet age is not a pleasant one.