09/10/2013 06:52 BST | Updated 09/10/2013 07:04 BST

Cyberchondria: Self-Diagnosing Health Ailments On The Internet Actually Makes You Feel Worse

We know self-diagnosing is such a bad idea: it starts off as a simple pain in your elbow. Then, a few minutes later via Google, and you've already diagnosed yourself with a chronic illness.

Hypochondria among well people worrying about their health has reached new levels, reported The Daily Telegraph, with psychologists warning that "growing use of the internet has led to what they have termed “cyberchondria”."

worried internet

Cyberchondria isn't a new term - it has been used since the 90s, but researchers have found that people who look up conditions on the net feel worse after having done so.

CYBERCHONDRIAC: a person who compulsively searches the Internet for information about particular real or imagined symptoms of illness

In the latest study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, said The Daily Telegraph, Dr Thomas Fergus, of Baylor University in Waco, Texas, found that "fearing a catastrophic disease or injury, unfounded or not, can trigger worries about disability, job loss and potential medical bills."

The research showed about eight in 10 American adults look for medical information on the internet, and Dr Fergus sampled 512 healthy people with an average age of 33 to analyse how it affected their anxiety.

Photo gallery See Gallery

He used several measures, reported, and among them was a scale where they assessed statements such as "I always want to know what the future has in store for me" and "I spend most of my time worrying about my health".

He added: "While fearing the worst when it comes to health is not new, the online glut of medical information -- some of it from questionable sources -- may be more disturbing than that contained in medical manuals that people consult or obtain directly from a doctor."

A crucial thing to bear in mind is that when sites list a range of symptoms, these are often ordinary things that most people might have.

Writing eloquently on HuffPost US, Richard C. Senelick, M.D wrote: "In 2008, Microsoft published the results of a large study that looked at how people search the Internet for health related information. They looked at 40 million page samples for three common symptoms -- headaches, muscle twitches and chest pain. What they found was that search engines, unlike physicians, do not understand "diagnostic reasoning" and therefore do not discriminate between common benign disorders and less common serious problems.

"The ranking and appearance on a search page is not in the order of how likely it is to be that individual's problem. A physician will consider many variables such as a person's age, past history, associated medical problems and symptoms, while factoring in the level of anxiety, depression or other emotional problems. The Internet is impersonal and does not currently take these other factors into account."


  • You focus on the worst possible case scenario

  • You can't remember the last condition you had that you didn't look up online

  • You keep searching for signs your condition is more serious than it is

  • You feel worse when you stop using the computer

  • You aren't 100% sure about your symptoms

When you find yourself getting worked up, try these techniques from HuffPost US OWN:

Photo gallery8 Ways To De-Stress In 1 Minute Or Less See Gallery