15 Signs You're a Cyberchondriac
By Amanda Schupak
Isn’t it great to have a world of information right at your fingertips? Can’t remember the name of that actor? Boom, IMDb. Trying to find a used sofa? Craigslist it is. Want to know what’s causing that rash on your stomach? Hold it right there. While some people might be able to handle a little Web-enabled self-diagnosing from time to time—the vast majority of us have done it at least once—there are some people who should never use the Internet to play Dr. House.
These people are called cyberchondriacs. They are anxious about their health and go online to assuage their fears, only to come out more worried than before. Thomas Fergus, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Baylor University, is one of a handful of researchers trying to learn more about this decidedly modern (dare I say, First World) affliction: “Many people can go online when they’re not feeling well and it makes them feel less distressed, relieved. For other individuals, going online to search for medical information makes them feel more anxious.” But they do it anyway, and they do it often, possibly convincing themselves they have Swine Flu, Ebola or a brain tumor.
Needless to say, it ain’t healthy.
A 2009 study by researchers at Microsoft analyzed masses of health-related Internet searches and found that nearly 40 percent of people experience greater anxiety after researching their symptoms than they did at the outset. “The Web has the potential to increase the anxieties of people who have little or no medical training, especially when Web search is employed as a diagnostic procedure,” the authors write. “We use the term cyberchondria to refer to the unfounded escalation of concerns about common symptomatology, based on the review of search results and literature on the Web.”