Are You a Cyberchondriac? | Whittier, CA | PIH Health

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Published on January 26, 2022

Are You a Cyberchondriac?

Photo of worried woman sitting on her couch with a laptopDo you run to Dr. Google every time you have the slightest ache, pain or other symptom so you can try to figure out what’s wrong? If so, you’re not alone. Many people search online to find out what may be ailing them when they’re not feeling their best. In fact, Google receives more than 1 billion health-related questions per day!

Looking for medical information online has become a normal part of modern life and there are many benefits to being able to find out more about your health, symptoms and disease. But when internet searches start to make you anxious about what may be wrong, it could be doing more harm than good—and you could be suffering from cyberchondria.

What is cyberchondria?

Cyberchondria is similar to hypochondria in that it is characterized by being overly anxious about your health. But this particular term refers to people who excessively use the internet to research symptoms and health conditions—and then get stressed and anxious about the multitude of diagnoses they may read about. The term was coined by the media in the early 2000’s as internet searches skyrocketed.

You may have cyberchondria if you do the following:

  • You compulsively search online for health information.
  • You are worried about having a serious illness, even if your symptoms are minor.
  • You experience more fear and anxiety, rather than relief, from your search.
  • You assume that what you find online is accurate and truthful.
  • You jump to the worst conclusions about your health.

What are the dangers of researching health information online?

Although you may gain some valuable information about your health when searching online, some people are better off avoiding this practice and leaving diagnosing to a health professional. There are a number of reasons why it’s not a great idea to rely on Dr. Google every time you don’t feel quite right. These include:

  • Information accuracy. It’s important to check sources when searching online, especially when it comes to your health. Not all information is valid or accurate.
  • Needless worrying. Relatively minor health symptoms are often listed as signs of more serious health conditions. This can be pretty scary, making you think the worst and worry excessively, even when there’s no need to be concerned.
  • Wasted time. Not only do you potentially waste time worrying about nothing, but you may also waste the valuable time you have with your doctor. If you’re asking questions about everything you read online, it can take away from the time your doctor has to evaluate you in person so you can get some solid answers about what may be ailing you.

The Importance of Talking to Your Doctor

Perhaps the most important strategy to combat cyberchondria is to avoid excessively seeking information on the internet and instead seeking a professional’s opinion on the matter. A doctor can provide more reliable information than an internet search.

“Looking up health information isn’t always dangerous, because in some cases it can steer patients in the right direction. But the more research you do, the more likely you’ll land on a serious ailment. This can cause unnecessary stress which does have harmful effects on health,” says Mehwish Khan MD, PIH Health family medicine physician.

“If you are experiencing unusual symptoms don’t delay receiving care from a healthcare professional. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about your health and avoid trying to self-diagnose. Your primary care doctor has years of medical training and can provide you with the most accurate diagnosis and treatment to help you feel well.”

In addition to scheduling routine checkups with your doctor, leading a lifestyle that includes restful sleep, good nutrition, exercise, and other things conducive to good health can help keep health anxiety in check. If you find that you’re excessively searching for medical information online and it’s causing you stress or anxiety that you can’t get under control on your own, let your doctor know right away.

For more information on PIH Health Physicians or to find a doctor, please visit PIHHealth.org/Find-a-Doctor.

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