Always Googling your symptoms? You may be a cyberchondriac

Always Googling your symptoms? You may be a cyberchondriac

Many of us have been there. You don’t feel quite right, so you hit up Google to find out whether you should call your doctor or just relax because it’s no big deal.

Then it happens: The plethora of medical websites, with a multitude of possible diagnoses — some of them very scary — bring on anxiety and stress on top of the symptoms you are already feeling. All of this sends you down a cyber rabbit hole of worst-case scenarios on treatments, costs and prognoses.

If this sounds familiar, you may have cyberchondria. The term was coined in the media in the early 2000s, a play on the word “hypochondria”, which means excessive anxiety about health.

Online self-diagnosis might be correct sometimes and give people more information about their health condition. Often, however, searching online just causes anxiety, and that can negatively affect your health and your relationships with your doctor, family and friends.

If your doctor has to debunk or disprove every online self-diagnosis, it can eat up the already limited time you have with him or her. It also could cause them to miss a real issue. Learning to manage your cyberchondria-induced stress and anxiety can be a helpful skill.

“Sometimes, the health information people find on the Internet can be helpful, but sometimes, it just makes them worry needlessly. And sometimes, the source of the information isn’t reliable, making matters worse rather than better,” says Dr. Gurbax Saini, an Advocate Medical Group internal medicine physician at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, Ill. “If you’re running to your computer every time you sneeze or cough, it might be time to sit down with your doctor to discuss this anxiety.”

Dr. Saini suggests having a frank discussion with your doctor about your tendency to Google your symptoms and the worry it causes. Your physician also may be able to offer some ways to help alleviate your fears and avoid jumping to the worst-case scenario.

Be sure to evaluate your online sources, he says. Message boards and online communities are great for people dealing with a known condition or disease but not good for someone who is trying to self-diagnose.

Don’t be afraid to seek help from a mental health professional. A counselor may be able to offer ways to manage and combat irrational and distorted thoughts, including cyberchondria.

Are you trying to find a doctor? Look here if you live in Illinois. Look here if you live in Wisconsin. 

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  1. When people just do not feel like themselves or have very specific symptoms, they generally seek expert medical expertise from their medical providers. In many cases, Google replaces this because our medical professionals either don’t listen or bring in their preconceived beliefs based on gender, race, etc. Can we bring back that trusted family MD who really knew his/her patients and had the time to listen to them?

    • 100% agree. My experience with most doctors is that they don’t listen; most ask questions but lack the patience to allow me to describe any of my symptoms and interrupt, filling in the blanks with their own assumptions.

  2. Normalize not calling people hypochondriacs and not blaming everything on anxiety.

    Physicians who practice on humans have a major advantage over scientists in general and other types of doctors like veterinarians: Human beings are sentient, intelligent, and can talk.

    When someone says they aren’t feeling well, listen.

  3. I had recent experience of chest scan showing severe calcium build up by/in two major arteries in heart. Also visiting nurse did ‘quantaflo’ test which showed significant PAD. Naturally, going on line , I thought I was on deaths door- I’m 68. But after PCP, cardiologist, and vascular surgeon ( that included nuclear stress test and lower Doppler ). Diagnosis from both were mild atherosclerosis. My point is using the Internet for health info or as diagnosis can put your head in a spiraling rabbit hole of worry and anxiety—- I’m fortunate that all the MDs I went to were reassuring . But yes, especially ridiculous amounts of certain vitamins or supplements that claim a ‘cure’ are usually baseless in their ‘science’ and actually a danger to clear thinking.

  4. For families with children, Advocate Children’s Hospital’s Children’s Health Resource Center has a helpful website with reliable online handouts, an extensive children’s heath eBook library and a nurse who can help parents navigate their child’s medical journey with reliable health information and dependable resources.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.