Cyberchondria - Hypochondria and Internet Addiction

Am I a Cyberchondriac?

I’ve been sick ever since I visited WebMD. I’m dizzy this morning, and last week there was that mysterious rash. Oh, yeah, the headache that I had on Friday is back. Ouch, my toes are tingling where I was sitting on my feet.

Where’s my computer? I’d better consult my favorite Web Doctor to see what’s wrong with me. It’s probably something really bad. I could pay my doctor $90 for an office visit, but he never takes me seriously. Anyway, I can find out what’s wrong with a few clicks of the mouse!

Search for Symptoms on the Internet

So let’s see: dizziness, headache, tingling, fatigue—I Just remembered I’m tired, too— Hit SEARCH.

Uh, oh…. Fibromyalgia, Multiple Sclerosis, Brain Tumor… I knew I didn’t feel well! I’m sicker than I thought! Better find an emergency room. I’ll just print out this list of symptoms to show the doctors as they might not realize how serious this is…

Cyberchondria - Search The Web for Health Advice

Searching the internet for symptoms.
Searching the internet for symptoms. | Source

Darn doctors in the ER didn't think there was anything wrong. "Take two aspirin and call tomorrow if you feel worse," they said.

More research... Look at the other symptoms for Fibromyalgia… muscle pain, anxiety, depression, headaches… yeah, I got it! In fact, I’m feeling worse! It’s making me depressed and anxious to know I’m so sick. Wait, maybe it’s something worse. Look up symptoms for MS. I could have MS… I’m really sick. I’m going to bed. Wait… let me take my laptop…

Definitions of Cyberchondria and Hypochondria

Cyberchondria: n an unfounded anxiety concerning the state of one's health brought on by visiting health and medical websites. (Dictionary.Com)

Hypochrondria:
n an excessive preoccupation with one's health, usually focusing on some particular symptom, as cardiac or gastric problems. 2. excessive worry or talk about one's health.
(Dictionary.Com)

Techno-Savvy Hypochondriacs Invent New Term

Laugh if you will, but cyberchondria is a growing problem among the techno-savvy hypochondriacs of the world.

Hypochondria has been elevated to new heights by the advent of the World Wide Web. It’s even been given a new name: Cyberchondria. A vast number of websites cater to those who want to find out more about their health and their symptoms. While medical sites provide invaluable information and insights to many people, they can create havoc in the mind of a cyberchondriac who has an excessive preoccupation with his health.

Where did the term "Cyberchondria" come from?

A review in the British Medical Journal publication Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry from 2003 says that the word “cyberchondria” was coined in the late 1990s or early 2000’s. It was used in 2001 in an article in the United Kingdom newspaper The Independentto describe "the excessive use of internet health sites to fuel health anxiety." It has since been used in prestigious medical journals as well as in newspapers and on internet sites. In 2008, “cyberchondria” was Word of the Year for Webster’s New World Dictionary.

Cyberchondria Is Fueled by Easy Internet Access to Medical Information

The internet fuels hypochondria in a way that wasn’t possible before technology gave anyone with a computer easy access to in-depth medical information. In the past, hypochondriacs got medical information from friends, medical TV shows or the library. Now, the computer savvy cyberchondriac can get endless information from a long list of websites catering to those who wish to be more informed about their ailments. The internet provides an extensive menu of diseases and ailments, treatments, diagnostics and prognoses. Just by keying in a few symptoms, a wide selection of possible diseases will pop up. Take your choice, it’s hypochondriac heaven!

Brian Fallon, MD, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and a leading researcher and expert on hypochondria believes that the internet has changed things for the worse for hypochondriacs. He believes that 90% of hypochondriacs who have access to the internet become cyberchondriacs. Dr. Fallon says, "Cyberchondria can be a terrible, devastating disease in the sense that the individual focuses on nothing other than checking their symptoms on the Internet and it destroys their lives."

The Urban Dictionary agrees with Dr. Fallon as it defines Cyberchondria: "When one become so obsessed with medical websites on the internet that they diagnose themselves with certain illnesses that more often then not they don't have, thus making the situation worse."

More recent studies have supported Dr. Fallon's observations. Easy availability of extensive information on health issues allows cyberchondriacs to instantly access volumes of worrisome details, causing more distress and anxiety.

Unfortunately, mixed in with reliable and well researched sources, are endless accounts by non-medical people, quasi-experts and people who just make stuff up. There are message boards where people without any medical knowledge at all give medical advice to each other. There are Q & A sites where people ask medical questions and a dozen people vying for a "best answer award" might give flip answers or information from a non-reliable source - there's usually no way to tell.

While providing useful information for people who want to be their own health advocates, the internet can also distort the severity of symptoms and give people a false impression of how often certain symptoms lead to serious disease.

Research into Cyberchondria

Eric Horvitz and Ryen White, Microsoft Research Specialists, conducted the first studies of cyberchondriacs (Cyberchondria: Studies of the escalation of medical concerns in Web search. 2009). They found several dangers in the information gathered through web searches.

The Real Dangers of Cyberchondria:

  1. People generally believed that the higher the diseases were to the top of the search engine results, the higher the likelihood of someone having that disease. This is not true as top search engine results have more to do with mathematical algorithms based on keyword appearances, links and clicks on a page.
  2. Websites linked symptoms to a life-threatening disease much more often than the disease was likely to occur. For example, if you type in “Headache”, about 25% of the results might list brain tumor as one of the causes. In reality, a brain tumor only occurs in about one in 50,000 people.
  3. The third danger of web searches is that information can come from unreliable sources or it can be outdated. Horvits and White found that 75% of people who search for health information never check either the source of the information or the date of the information they found in their search.
  4. Web based medical searches can increase anxiety in many people. In cyberchondriacs, anxiety escalates with each new illness associated with the symptoms they search. Horvitz and White (2009) found that most people report low anxiety about their health, but that anxiety levels increased in two thirds of those who did their own web based health research.


Tips for Using Internet Health Searches

  • Always check dates and sources. Be sure the information you get is not only from reliable sources, but that it is current.
  • Do not take advice from non professionals at message boards, discussion forums or Q & A sites.
  • Remember that a trained professional will take the whole picture into consideration including your risk factors and prevalence of the disease. Talk to your doctor if your have health issues that are causing you distress.
  • If you have symptoms that require a doctor's care and believe that you've discovered something pertinent to your situation, print out the information and take it with you to the doctor for him to evaluate. While some doctors may not take kindly to this, most realize that their patients will use the internet to research their illnesses before coming in for an office visit.
  • Limit the time you spend searching the internet for health symptoms. The more time you spend on the internet researching health problems, the more anxiety you are likely to cause yourself.


Note about Cyberchondriac Quiz

Note about Quiz: This Cyberchondria Quiz was designed to be a fun quiz. It was not designed by a medical or mental health professional, and is not meant to be used as a diagnostic tool. It will give you some food for thought, and I hope you find it interesting!

Cyberchondriac Quiz - Are You a Cyberchondriac?

Get Health Information from Trusted Sources

There are some things you can do to ensure that the health information you get from the internet is reliable. The first and most important thing to do is to check your sources. Some reliable sites are those written by health care professionals with good credentials or well-funded research non-profit organizations. Here are a few:

Healthy Use of the Internet

While there are different levels of severity of hypochrondria and cyberchondria, these conditions can cause serious anxiety, stress and depression resulting in both physical and mental health issues.

The vast amount of information on the internet makes research in any area of interest easy and quick. Users are able to find almost anything related to their interests including everything related to their mental and physical health. It isn't even necessary to sit at a computer as all of this information is available on cell phones, iPads and Kindles. It is estimated that about seven million Americans search the internet for health related information. This article was not written to discourage people from becoming better informed about their health, medications or treatments. It is meant to caution those who rely extensively on the internet as a self-diagnostic tool to second guess their doctors. Take the Cyberchondriac Quiz above to find out if you are too obsessed with internet health websites!

Now excuse me, I think I need to find out why I have this headache...

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Copyright @2011 Stephanie Henkel


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Do You Think The Internet Contributes to Cyberchondria? Other Comments? 28 comments

LailaK profile image

LailaK 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

I have to admit that almost everytime I visit WebMD or Pub Med, I stay for about 3 hours jumping from syndrome to disease to disorders! Great hub as always!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 5 years ago from USA Author

Hi Laila,

I do think we all like to stay informed on health issues. It's fine as long as we don't become obsessed! :) Thanks for visiting and for your comments!


Jeannieinabottle profile image

Jeannieinabottle 5 years ago from Baltimore, MD

When I saw the word "cyberchondria" I have to admit my first thought was, "Oh... I'll bet I have that! What is it?" Hahaha... that might be the first indication I have a problem. Once I took a quiz on Web MD to figure out why I had severe headaches and it told me I either had an ear infection or I was schizophrenic. Well, that is a pretty big difference. I decided to stop taking quizzes on Web MD's site around that time. Interesting hub and voted up!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 5 years ago from USA Author

Jeannie - Haha, that's funny! I think you might have cyberchondria! Better stay away from those quizes, Jeannie. They could be hazardous to your health! Thanks for stopping in to check out my hub, and thanks for your vote!


iZeko profile image

iZeko 5 years ago

Really useful and interesting hub! I like your tips on how to use the health searches. Many people believe everything they read and never bother to check if it is true or not.


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 5 years ago from USA Author

iZeko - There are many websites with reliable health information, but there are also many not so reliable sources. It's best to check sources as well as dates of the information. The danger lies in over using the internet and self-diagnosing from the worst case scenarios. Thanks for stopping in to read my hub and for your comment!


Ardie profile image

Ardie 5 years ago from Neverland

Hi, my name is Ardie and I am a cyberchondriac. I didn't even realize what I was until I came across this hub. But I fit the symptoms perfectly, believe it or not. I'm going to print this out, take it to my doctor, and see what she can do for me. Thank you for opening my eyes!! :)


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 5 years ago from USA Author

Hi Artie, I've read some of your health related articles - researching for purposes of writing is a legitimate reason for searching the internet for health information! Thanks for stopping by to read and comment! Let me know what your doctor says about it! :)


Robin profile image

Robin 5 years ago from San Francisco

Great, informative Hub. I love the quiz capsule, too! I admit that I use the internet for symptoms, but most of the time it is incredibly useful. WebMD is my site of choice. I could see how people who are consumed with their health could let it get out of hand. Thanks for all of the tips!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 5 years ago from USA Author

Thanks, Robin! This was my first experience creating a quiz capsule, and I was pleased with the results.

I agree that the internet is a wonderful source of health information for most people. The problems occur when hypochondriacs use it to feed their anxieties and fears. Thanks for your comments!


JeniferRW profile image

JeniferRW 5 years ago from Couch

I have caught myself doing this on several occasions. This is so funny and SO true! I loved this hub. Great quiz too! This really makes you stop and think....Do you really have The Black Plague OR just a cold? LOL Thanks for sharing this I loved it! Voted up and All


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 5 years ago from USA Author

JeniferRW - Let's see...cough, fever, chills, headache .. obviously, it's the black plague! Glad you liked the Cyberchondriac Quiz - I won't ask what your results were. LOL. Thanks for your comments and votes!


RedElf profile image

RedElf 5 years ago from Canada

Love the quiz - I failed - I am definitely NOT a cyberchondriac! Wait - does that mean I passed? I need a second opinion...or a consultation...maybe a professional?


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 5 years ago from USA Author

Hi RedElf - Haha...maybe you just need to do an internet search? Glad you liked the Quiz! Thanks for visiting and commenting!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

Stephanie, interesting hub. I did the quiz and I am normal. I don't usually check out medical websites but my sister is addicted to them, according to her she's got everything under the sun. She'll say to me 'I think I've got an Auto-immune disease' and I'll say 'So you're still just up to the letter 'A' in the online medical dictionary. There are another 25 letters to go....when will she finally be suffering from Zygomicosis (I had to look that one up :o))


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

Hi Jools99 - While I'm pretty addicted to the internet, I do try to limit my time on health sites. They are very useful, but need to be used with a big dose of common sense. I laughed when you said your sister has 25 letters of the alphabet to go...I know people like that, too!


Vinaya Ghimire profile image

Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal

I never knew about Cyberchondria thing. Thanks for enlightening us.

As I began writing online, more and more I'm getting addicted to the world wide web. Maybe I should consider side effects.


Bedbugabscond profile image

Bedbugabscond 4 years ago from United States

I am not a cybercondriac, but I know people who are. I am pretty addicted to the internet as well, but not so much to becoming obsessed with medical websites. I thinking my training in the medical field helps me take interment medical information with a grain of salt.


Victoria Lynn profile image

Victoria Lynn 4 years ago from Arkansas, USA

Interesting. So true, too. Searching the internet will "confirm" that we have every illness imaginable. I try not to do that unless there has been a real concern in my life. Otherwise, I stay away from those sites. Excellent hub to build awareness. A lot of people wouldn't even think about this as an addiction. Great info! Many votes. Sharing!


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 4 years ago from North Carolina

I used to go to webmd and check out my symptoms but the results would always suggest something scary or terminal so I quit doing it all together. Great hub and a fun quiz.


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

Hi Tammyswallow,

I occasionally look up medical information, but I have found that too often the worst case scenario comes up. Internet information can be helpful as well as scary! Glad you enjoyed the hub and quiz!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

Vinaya Ghimire - I think most of us Hubbers are pretty addicted to the internet! But I'm sure you're not a cyberchondriac! :)


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

bedbugabscond - I also know people who are nearly cyberchondriacs and who are obsessed with medical sites. You are wise to take internet medical information with a grain of salt.


HikeGuy profile image

HikeGuy 4 years ago from Northern California Coast

Stephanie, I enjoyed this so much. You made me laugh.

I write online health, fitness and nutrition articles for a publisher. I put in disclaimers warning people about attempting to self-diagnose or self-treat a medical problem. Delaying appropriate treatment can be dangerous.

Good pointers in here about finding quality information. Many sites, even major authoritative sites, are badly out of date. I check online medical journals for recent research results and then translate the findings for an average reader. A lot of fresh medical information isn't user-friendly to people outside the field.

I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum from cyberchondria. My focus is on a healthy lifestyle with good nutrition and fitness. I can't remember the last time I was sick.


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

Victoria Lynn - It is amazing how the medical websites can encourage people to believe the worst case scenario. Although I love to do research, I try not to self-diagnose. Thanks so much for your insightful comments and for the share!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

HikeGuy - There is much useful information on the internet. Unfortunately, as you say, much of it is out of date and inaccurate. It sounds like the articles you write give some very sensible advice to readers. Thanks so much for your very insightful comments!


rajan jolly profile image

rajan jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

Hi Stephanie. I took the quiz and according to it I'm not a cyberchondriac. I rarely do visit health websites. Hoever it's great that you put out pointers which explain the whole issue so well.

Thanks for sharing.

Voted up, useful, interesting and shared.


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

Rajan Jolly - Glad to know you're not a cyberchondriac! :) I have to admit I have a computer addiction, but, like you, I don't visit the health websites very often. There's a wealth of useful information on the web, but we need to be careful to check out the reliability of what we read. Thanks so much for your comments and thanks for the share!

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