The Dangers of “Cyberchondria”

The Dangers of Cyberchondria

How many times have you experienced physical or mental symptoms that were out of the ordinary for you and turned to online resources for information rather than calling your doctor? It’s no surprise many people decide to use internet sites like WebMD and Google to self-diagnose rather than going to the doctor when 13% of Floridians have to wait up to three weeks for a doctor’s appointment. However, there are many risks associated with using Google to diagnose and self-diagnosing medical problems using the internet. Find out what they are and which safer alternatives you can access when your family physician is unavailable on short notice. 

What Is It Called When You Self-Diagnose?

Cyberchondria is a relatively new term, used to describe the anxiety evoked by searching for answers to health concerns online rather than visiting or trusting a licensed medical professional. The more commonly known term hypochondria is a health anxiety disorder in which the individual constantly worries they may become ill or fears they’re already exhibiting signs of illness. People who self-diagnose disorders using the internet are known as hypochondriacs. In the digital age, the new term cyberchondria is used to describe the same health anxiety that’s perpetuated by doing online research in an attempt to self-diagnose symptoms. 

What Are the Common Problems With Self-Diagnosis?

Naturally, there are many concerns when an individual with no official medical training attempts to diagnose themselves using unreliable websites and resources. The biggest problem is that someone with hypochondria who attempts to do Internet research is at a high risk of finding inaccurate information that can result in anxiety and distress. 

People with cyberchondria or hypochondria tend to focus on the worst-case scenario (catastrophic thinking) and will look for vague symptoms matching their own experience that give them reason to worry they’re extremely ill. Cyberchondria often occurs in a cycle where anxiety prompts the individual to go looking for information to use in a self-diagnosis. When they find this information, it results in more anxiety about an illness or disease they suspect they must have. Hypochondria affects between 4% and 9% of the population and should be taken seriously. Individuals living with hypochondria require professional help overcoming or managing their anxiety about their health. 

Alternatives to Self-Diagnosis

Rather than turning to unreliable websites and search engines like Google or WebMD when you experience symptoms or anxiety about your health, consider using these alternatives to cope with hypochondria.

Telehealth Appointments

When it’s not possible to visit the doctor in person or you simply don’t want to visit the doctor every time a health-related anxious thought pops into your head, consider making use of telehealth services instead. Florida law enables out-of-state health care providers to offer telehealth services to patients in Florida, making this type of digital, remote health care far more accessible. 

A telehealth appointment allows you to book a time that works with your schedule and speak to a registered physician about your problem with a phone or video call from the comfort of your home. After you speak with the doctor, they may recommend further treatment or medication or simply ease your anxieties by letting you know your symptoms are nothing to worry about. 

Visit a Walk-In Clinic

If you’re turning to Dr. Google because your family doctor’s office has a two- to three-week wait time and you simply need to know right away what’s going on with your body, visiting a walk-in clinic is a good alternative to self-diagnosis. Rather than wasting your time online reading about the worst-case scenario, find a walk-in clinic near your home that you can visit as soon as possible. There, a licensed physician can see you and assess your symptoms to provide a reliable diagnosis based on their extensive medical knowledge and training. 

See a Therapist Regularly 

A great resource for managing and maintaining your mental health is to speak with a registered therapist regularly. This can be in your local community, via apps for remote therapy or through an outpatient program like at Restore in Florida. Since cyberchondria and hypochondria are types of health-related anxiety, therapy programs like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) help patients to identify what thoughts and beliefs they have surrounding their health and how they can change those thought patterns to reduce anxiety

How to Access Medical Information Online Responsibly 

Sometimes, it’s acceptable to look online for health-related information. However, you must choose reputable websites to make your search on, and you shouldn’t search online with the goal of performing a self-diagnosis. Instances where it makes sense to look for medical information online include researching various types of medication recommended by your doctor to see which type appeals to you, searching for therapy or mental health resources in your community or researching coping mechanisms for mental health disorders like anxiety or OCD. While none of these actions are replacements for seeking professional medical treatment, they can supplement your professional care without causing you to find frightening information or spiral deeper into your anxiety. 

When searching for reliable websites you can trust for medical information, look for web domains ending in .gov (indicating a government sanctioned website), .edu (indicating an educational institute runs the website) or in some cases, .org if the site belongs to a well-known, reputable organization. Use your best judgment, and never believe everything you read online relating to a medical condition. It’s always important to seek the assessment of your doctor rather than using Google to diagnose your condition. 

What to Do When a Diagnosis Is Causing Anxiety 

If your anxiety is health-related and your tendency to research symptoms of illness or disease online is disrupting your mental health, it’s time to seek treatment. At Restore in Florida, our team of professional counselors is ready to take your call and support you through a treatment program that meets your needs and budget. Whether you want inpatient or outpatient support as you work to manage your health-related anxiety, we’re here for you. Call today at  (877) 594-3566 to find out more.