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Hypochondriacs Symptoms Made Worse By The Internet

Hypochondriacs Symptoms Made Worse By The Internet

Is the Internet making hypochondriacs worse?

The Internet is a great source of information, but it’s not without pitfalls. The easy availability of medical information has no doubt made it easier for people to make educated decisions about their health, but not all of this online info is credible, and practicing this form of self diagnosis can be disastrous for people who are likely to worry.

Prior to the rise of Internet, hypochondriacs had to scour libraries, text books, doctor’s pamphlets, and other various medical sources to in order to obtain enough information to even begin to worry.

But now, thanks to the plethora of online health info available at the click of a button, becoming a hypochondriac is much easier than it used to be.

self dignaose online medical website Hypochondriacs Symptoms Made Worse By The Internet

Online Self Diagnosis Can Lead To Worry

“For hypochondriacs, the Internet has absolutely changed things for the worse,” says Brian Fallon, MD, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and the co-author of Phantom Illness: Recognizing, Understanding and Overcoming Hypochondria (1996).

Fallon explained that although no studies have been conducted on how exactly hypochondriacs use the Internet; the phenomenon is now common enough to have been dubbed “cyberchondria.”

The medical term hypochondriasis is defined as worry over an imagined illness with exaggeration of symptoms, no matter how insignificant, that lasts for at least six months and causes significant distress.

The condition commonly develops in those aged 20 -30, and has been known to occur following bouts of depression and anxiety, or the illness of a loved one.

Often regarded as harmless, hypochondriasis is a real problem that can change a sufferer’s character and behavior significantly. Hypochondriacs tend to be very aware of bodily sensations that most people live with and ignore. To a hypochondriac, an upset stomach becomes a sign of cancer and a headache can mean a brain tumor, and other symptoms such as fatigue, swollen glands, and strange physical sensations could be seen as HIV or lupus.

The stress that goes along with this worry can make the symptoms even worse.

“[The] illness often becomes a central part of a hypochondriac’s identity,” says Arthur Barsky, MD, of Harvard Medical School and the author of Worried Sick: Our Troubled Quest for Wellness (1988).

As a result, a hypochondriac’s work and relationships suffer. Fallon also added that those with the condition are not the only ones who pay the price, explaining that hypochondria costs billions of dollars are year in unnecessary medical tests and treatments.

Treating hypochondria, once believed to be impossible to cure, has improved a lot in the last decade. Both Barsky and Fallon have had great success in using antidepressants, and cognitive behavioral psychotherapy to help treat hypochondriac sufferers.

The bottom line in both of these treatments is to wean patients off the behaviors that lead to hypochondriasis. However, easy access to the Internet offers a quick route to relapse. Fallon said:

“In a loose sense, a hypochondriac becomes almost addicted to looking up information, examining himself, and getting reassurance from other people, checking just makes things worse.”

With so much information available online, it’s no wonder doctors are now beginning to worry what effect this could have on those who are more prone to worrying.

So what can you do to avoid giving yourself feelings of hypochondriasis? For a start Barsky offers one very simple solution when it comes to researching your ailments, “If it’s just going to make you upset. Don’t do it.”

If you generally tend to overreact, just relax, maintaining your cool whilst awaiting a diagnosis is key. First off, schedule an appointment with your doctor. If your condition isn’t life-threatening, do some research (if you must) and then follow up on your ideas with your doctor. If your condition is more complicated, simply avoid trying to diagnose yourself. And avoid reading too much into anecdotal personal horror stories (there are a lot of them online); these types of articles are a one way ticket to hypochondriasis.

If while following these simple guidelines you are still experiencing overwhelming emotions of worry and fear, you may be suffering from clinical hypochondria, in which case you should reach out and get some professional help.


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