Do you have a cold only to read up online and be convinced it isn’t just the common cold, but fatal pneumonia? Do you march into your doctor’s office with a terrible headache that the internet has made you believe is a brain tumour? Does the tingling in your fingers make you wonder if you suffer from multiple sclerosis? Chances are you are simply suffering from cyberchondria.
It's a common phenomenon we’ve all witnessed -we get a random illness or the symptoms of an illness, and we end up googling it. Later we realise that we are now more worried than ever at the number of diseases (all fatal obviously) that we could possibly have.
Now while this trend is more prominent in the US and in Australia, it is gaining popularity in India as well.
Most medical students and researchers have suffered from the phenomenon where they are convinced that they have a particular disease, on account of having spent so much time reading up about various illnesses and their corresponding symptoms. This is commonly referred to as ‘nosophobia’ or ‘hyperchondria’.
In today’s information age, people are slowly replacing waiting rooms with health websites, diagnosis with online debate forums, and professional opinion with public opinion.
Cyberchondria, thus, refers to a sort of digital age hyperchondria where the internet is giving most of us an acute case of the heebie-jeebies.
It is easy to understand the appeals of a website; you don’t need medical insurance and you don’t need an appointment.
However, it’s also really easy to believe that you have the worst possible disease. According to experts, what we discover online could be more harmful to us than our original illness.
Cyberchondriacs log on with the hope of finding some relief but more often than not, they end up spending hours online, reading, self diagnosing and stressing out.
One of the major reasons to be careful is because not all the information available online is accurate and most of the people draw their conclusions from random anecdotes by anonymous people on even more random websites.
As long as the site you visit is certified and you consult your general practitioner afterwards, there is no harm in making yourselves more aware about medicine.
While a lot of doctors are annoyed at the number of questions asked by patients or the problem they face convincing them that they do not suffer from such-and-such fatal disease, there are a few who support this new-found, more aware patient.
As Dr Sudhakar Reddy, a physician puts it, “While this trend is still growing in India, there is no harm in it as long as the information is valid, reliable and used sensibly. I myself often encourage my patients to read up online about diabetes and its various cures.”
So if you’re planning to accost your doctor with sheafs of paper covered with information that has been highlighted with notes in the margin, you might just be suffering from cyberchondria and might want to stop surfing the internet for symptoms of various illnesses. Educating yourself is sensible, so long as you don’t become neurotic and think you’re dying.