Say you have a nagging cough, a muscle twitch, or a bad headache. It lingers for a couple days, and you start to get a little nervous. You might be tempted to turn to the internet to try to find out if you should be worried.
It is not a surprise that 80 percent of internet users have searched for health-related topics online. While there’s nothing wrong with doing that to educate yourself about your health, it’s important that you don’t rely on false information or let it become an obsession. That’s when you could develop a condition called “cyberchondria.”
Much like hypochondria
Cyberchondria is sort of a modern version of hypochondria. Defined as worry over an imagined illness with exaggeration of symptoms, no matter how insignificant, hypochondria lasts for at least six months and causes significant distress. It can sometimes surface following the illness of a friend or family member. It can also occur as a secondary illness to depression or generalized anxiety disorder.
Hypochondriacs used to have to comb through books to research illnesses and ask doctors for information. Now a wealth of information is available with a few clicks on a laptop, smartphone, or tablet. The easy availability of health information on the web has certainly helped countless people make educated decisions about their health and medical treatment, but it can be harmful to people who are likely to worry.
The costs involved
Most people have likely entered symptoms into an internet search engine. The problem is that some websites can provide you with vague, misleading, or outright false information. If you focus on the worst-case scenario, you can convince yourself that you have a serious condition. This can increase your anxiety and raise concerns when there, most likely, isn’t anything wrong.
Cyberchondria also drives up healthcare costs and can increase your own out-of-pocket costs. If a website says you might have a serious illness, you may decide to see a specialist instead of your primary-care physician.
Plus, some websites that claim to be offering facts are actually trying to scare you into buying unproven health or medical products. There’s very little regulation against that.
Educate yourself the right way
If you want to investigate your symptoms online, make sure you read only information that is current and evidence based. Visit medically reliable websites, such as CDC.gov, WebMD, and the Mayo Clinic. Never trust any sites that ask for your personal information or a credit card. Avoid blogs and online support groups, which can be great for newly diagnosed people but terrifying for others.
To help reduce anxiety, turn the channel when drug commercials and infomercials come on. Pharmaceutical companies are legally required to list all potential drug side effects in their commercials. That can cause undue stress. You should also unplug from the virtual world occasionally. The internet is always available, and constant health worry can be exhausting. Distraction is often a marvelous thing when it comes to averting health concerns.
Most importantly, if you’re really worried about a symptom, make an appointment to see your doctor. Your physician will tell you if something could be serious and help you figure out the next steps. Also, see your doctor for regular checkups and be sure to ask questions about your health. ❦