The Internet has its many uses but those of us who are addicted to it must be aware of one serious drawback, as more and more people are becoming hypochondriacs by turning to the Internet instead of a doctor, to check if they have any health problems.
Researchers found searches relating to serious symptoms have risen by up to 9,000% in the last three years alone. Experts warn that this so called cyber-chondria is a growing problem, with many patients feeling anxious as a result of having more access to information about health.
Doctors believe this drives a form of health paranoia where sufferers excessively analyse their condition. Hospitals also report rising number of visits from those who have self-diagnosed on line, or read about a celebrity’s condition. The analysis of Google reveals searches for terms such as ‘How to know chest pains are serious’ rose 8,781% from 2015-2018. Key words such as ‘sciatica’, ‘acne’, ‘mouth ulcers’, ‘IBS’ plus the word ‘treatment’ are searched over 100,000 times on average every year. ‘Stomach ache’ has been looked at 115,800 times a year since 2015.
Hannah Sims, product manager for Perk Box Medical, the healthcare firm which commissioned the study, said: ‘People turn to the web when it is hard to get a GP appointment. Over one million people a week in the UK struggle to get seen by a doctor when they need them. People naturally look for a quick fix solution, googling their symptoms.’
Cyber-chondria already costs the NHS 420 million pounds a year according to estimates by King’s College London. This is because many people look up their ailments and then take a list of possible illnesses to their GP, some of whom refer them to scans and further diagnosis. Some have a genuine physical ailment but many are convinced their condition is more severe than it really is after finding similar stories online.
In September, surgeon Richard Kerr told a conference that patients needed good health to navigate the proliferation of information on line to understand their risk of illness. Previous researches found the ‘worried well’ worsen their health by fretting when they do not need to.
In 2016 a study in Norway found those with the highest level of health anxiety are more than twice as likely to develop heart problems later in life. Scientists suspect hypochondriacs put their body on high alert, constantly on guard for any symptoms, but this, and the resulting stress, puts them at high risk of heart disease.
In other words, hypochondriacs must refrain from the folly of putting themselves in danger from exaggerating their health concerns, as the stress that follows is likely to cause them no end of harm.