Is Dr. Internet adding to your anxiety?

The Internet is perpetually changing the way we source, think and process information. Now people don’t need to visit offices or make lengthy local/ international calls to get hands-on information.

Want a currency exchange rate? Google it
Want to get the most economical direct flight? Google it,
Want to check the book’s content before buying it, but you don’t feel like walking to your local bookstore? Check it online.

Search engines have transformed the business and have given people a reliable tool to be informative. But is trying to get all the information through search engines always reliable? One such debatable area is using search engines for self-diagnosis. Let us acknowledge every one of us, now and then, use Google to find a diagnosis for our persistent headache or fever and cold, only to be stumbled upon with the results telling your symptoms to indicate that you have a brain tumor or cancer.

Are you a Cyberchondriac?

Our body has a complex mechanism, and it is normal to worry about any kind of abnormality in its function or appearance. Some of us might not have the time or resources to visit a family doctor for every single headache, but that does not stop us from pondering over what may be wrong with our health. Google and other search engines come as a handy solution. Just typing “reasons for chest pain,” you will find various diagnoses good enough to scare any otherwise logical person. While most of us might worry about the online results at times, we can still carry on with our lives and visit a doctor if the problem persists. For some people, however, the fear of being ill is so intense that all their focus shifts towards it, and they find it very difficult, if not impossible, to resume their normal routine. This condition is called “hypochondriacs,” Somatic Symptom Disorder or illness anxiety.

With the advent of the Internet, hypochondriacs have increasingly started turning to the Internet to diagnose themselves. Hence, this condition is called ‘Cyberchondriac,’ where worrying about health itself becomes an illness, and even the negative lab results reassurances by the medical professionals don’t convince them. For them, a cough is never just a cough. It could be the flu, Cystic fibrosis, tuberculosis, Congestive heart failure, SARS, or maybe even lung cancer!

How to find out if you have illness anxiety?

  • Do you have a family history?
  • No matter what the physicians or the reports tell you, do you still believe that you are suffering from a serious illness?
  • You will keep on changing doctors or advisors till you find someone who approves of your doubts
  • You spend hours checking the internet about every pain/ mole/ scar you get and does not disconnect unless you are sure that you have an illness
  • Even a single sneeze or cough makes your imagination go wild
  • You are regularly talking about illness, and all people have stopped taking you seriously
  • You think that no one in this world understands your pain
  • You come up with a new disease diagnosis every day
  • You feel the internet is your only savior
  • There has been a recent stressful or uneventful happening in your life

Your anxiety level increases just by thinking about the severe illness you may have, which leads to headaches and “the bad gut feeling” in your stomach. It becomes a vicious circle where your pain is incited due to anxiety, leading you to believe that you have a serious illness. We all have walked down that road. Like all people, the mental health professionals or the medical professionals must also have felt that they have all the diseases or the disorders they read in books. But sooner or later, we all come out of this phase.

Diagnosis and Treatment

After a thorough physical examination, going through the medical history, and running a battery of lab tests, a physician is unable to find any sign of physical illness; the patient can be referred to a mental health professional for further evaluation. A questionnaire and a few sessions can help a psychiatrist find an underlying cause of these somatic symptoms. Once diagnosed, the treatment plan varies from patient to patient. The road to recovery can be a long and tough one, but with a combination of supportive care and psychotherapy, illness anxiety can be controlled.

For good or worse, we can’t move back to the Pre-internet era, but what we can do with such a heavy influx of overwhelming information is learning how to make an informed decision and not give in to our anxiety. We certainly do not tell you to ignore the changes in your mental or physical health, but to get your facts straight and visit a physician instead of Googling your symptoms if you feel something offbeat. The internet is a mixed bag, and we must learn how to keep the rotten apples from the rest of the produce.