Your obsession to know if you are sick can actually make you sick [Infographic]


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Female_computerIn our digitized world, hypochondria has transformed into cyberchondria: an obsession over online health information as a means to identify and self-diagnose physical or mental conditions. Many cyberchondriacs are fervent believers in the power of web search engines to return accurate, well-informed health data, so much so that an astounding 35% of U.S. adults use the information they find online to self-diagnose. Unfortunately, cyberchondria is a potentially dangerous and slippery search slope: we may start our search feeling sick with worry over a newly detected lump, but end it by worrying ourselves sick over the returned search results.

Cyberchondria can make you sick with worry

If you have found a lump, or are worried about a drastic mood swing in a loved one, speaking with a professional should be the first go-to. There is nothing wrong with a cursory Google search just to be somewhat informed, but a prolonged, obsessive search can make you sick with worry if your migraine symptoms lead you to a brain tumour self-prognosis.

When searching health information online consider that:

  • Illnesses and conditions share many common symptoms; some serious and some benign.
  • Content ranked on the first pages of a Google search may be “accurate” health information, but may also be content that has been optimized (skewed) to return high in the search engine algorithm. The results therefore may be less reliable than you initially believed.

cyberchondria infographicCyberchondria can make you worry yourself sick

Self-diagnosis from online health information may feel reassuring now that you are able to put a name to your physical or mental condition. Yet, search engines cannot provide you with the support you may need to deal with the associated anxiety or depression resulting from the diagnosis. Moreover, it can be challenging to remain objective about one’s own health and treatment without the expert advice of a professional – and the support that they can offer you.

When reading health information online consider that:

  • Self-diagnosis can lead to self-harm through misdiagnosis or wrongful treatment.
  • Avoiding a visit to a health professional may mean you have less treatment options available to you than if your illness was detected and treated early on.

There is nothing wrong with being an educated patient or consumer. The problem arises when we replace professional and expert advice with an obsession for health information supplied to us through a digital tool. Until Dr. Google revamps its algorithm to provide better and safer professional health information, we should all strive to take a break from online searches, and make necessary appointments with a health professional in real life.

By Talya Rotem.

(Infographic source)


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