Sankhajyoti Saha, M.Optometry
Clinical Optometrist, I for Eye-Care, Falakata, India
“We are all now connected by the Internet, like neurons in a giant brain.”
– Stephen Hawking
Cyberchondria (Cyber=relating to technology; Chondria= anxiety from undiagnosed illness) refers to a person’s anxiety about their health that is created or exacerbated by using the internet to search for medical information.(1) Piggybacking your health related anxiety onto your web engine, may be a symptom that going to increase rapidly over time.
The World Wide Web provides medical information, derived from web search engines creates a scope for users to conduct their own diagnosis and healthcare assessment based on limited knowledge of diseases and treatment of their symptoms.
To start with, there are many valid reasons to worry about our health:
- The stories we hear (specifically on social media) (2)
- Free misinformation (2)
- Negativity bias (2)
- We live in a world that is arguably more stressful. (2)
Thomas Fergus, a professor of psychology at Baylor University, is a pioneering investigator in assurance-seeking behavior. He links Cyberchondria to a dysfunctional web of metacognitive beliefs, which are just thoughts about thinking. Everyone has these sorts of belief systems. In Cyberchondria, metacognitive beliefs morph into a mental trap that chains people to online health content. (1)
Groups that are likely to search health online:
A significant association was found between e-health use and the presence of a chronic illness, level of education, younger age. There was an association between age and chronic disease with choices in self-medication. Age greater than 30 years had an inverse relationship with self-medication. People living alone (i.e. unmarried, separated, or divorced) used more e-health than their cohabiting counterparts. (3) Wrong choices and hazardous behaviors may indeed result from poor quality and reliability of information; therefore, control of information is very important.
Strategies to overcome:
Nowadays people frequently say things like, “Should we depend upon online awareness with our health?” I would like to say “NO” first, and then “YES”; but mostly “NO”. Internet is not a bad thing. It is a beautiful thing if we oversee it.
- Blogs and online support groups usually provide anecdotes and opinions rather than proper clinical research. Other websites intentionally prey on people’s fears to sell them unproven treatments. Even websites are not perfect since computer algorithms cannot take individual circumstances into account.
Moreover, the pharmacopeia (official publication containing a list of medical drugs) can lead to a lack of appropriate assurance for self-diagnosis. (4)
- The most important strategy to combat Cyberchondria is to avoid excessively seeking information on the internet. When looking up online information is necessary, it is generally best to stick with credible sources that are backed by scientific and medical research.
- Taking breaks from the internet, in general can provide a welcome distraction from health concerns.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy, is a short-term therapytechnique, can be helpful to manage stress and anxiety, by changing their thought patterns.
- Meditate to avoid Cyberchondriac attack.
- Stay in touch with your Healthcare Provider.
(1) Cyberchondria: How the internet can afflict your (Mental) health. (June 16, 2014). Retrieved from http://health.usnews.com/health-news/patient-advice/articles/2014/06/16/cyberchondria-how-the-internet-can-afflict-your-mental-health(Last accessed: November 14, 2020, 10:40 PM)
(2) Confessions of a Cyberchondriac (August 12, 2019). Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/cyberchondria-modern-day-hypochondriac (Last accessed: November 16, 2020, 11:00 PM)
(3) Roberta Siliquini, Michele Ceruti, Emanuela Lovato, Fabrizio Bert, Stefania Bruno, Elisabetta De Vito,Giorgio Liguori, LambertoManzoli, Gabriele Messina, Davide Minniti &Giuseppe La Torre: Surfing the internet for health information: an italian survey on use and population choices: BMC Medical Informatics and Decision MakingPublished: 07 April 2011, volume 11,Article number: 21 (2011), 3-40. doi:10.1186/1472-6947-11-21
(4) J. Mark Wiggins and Joseph A. Albanese: Why Pharmacopoeia Compliance Is Necessary: Pharmacopoeia Compliance Series: 1-2
*The pictures in this content has been taken by Sankhajyoti Saha.