To some extent, we all do. There are those who are in the throes of a fierce stomach ache going through all the possible culprits according to infographics found on social media, from the third coffee to the cold, or who find themselves in the tunnel of online searches after having noticed strange itchy spots at some point on the body.
Relying on the web to remove doubts and reassure oneself about one’s health certainly has its uses, but one does not always know how to correctly interpret the information, even when it comes from reliable and safe sources.
Scholars have coined a new term to indicate this nuance of hypochondria fueled by the overuse of “Dr. Google”: those who overdo the search tend to cyberchondria, often achieving the opposite effect to the one desired.
If it was better not to know
Why not call the family doctor directly? Sometimes the internet is simply more convenient, either because it offers the illusion of anonymity for the most bothersome symptoms (minus the myriad of faceless corporations to whom we confide our worst secrets), or because symptoms of discomfort seem so vague or harmless as that. doesn’t seem like bothering a doctor… only freaking out reading about rare genetic diseases, unpronounceable-name syndromes, and fulminant tumors.
And for those who tend to cyberchondria, panic is not at all a deterrent, quite the contrary. Along with the anxiety, the need to seek additional information also develops, a behavior which could, in the long term, undermine confidence in the doctor or specialist to whom one turns for yet another check-up. A recent study published in the Psychiatric Research Journallooking for predictors of this trend.
Who is most vulnerable
Those who suffer from cyberchondria are not satisfied with a second or fourth opinion. Research begins to become an obsession to the detriment of other activities or interests, taking up more and more time. And the need to be reassured leads in some cases to undergoing invasive, expensive and not always necessary examinations, perhaps ending up moving away from doctors and medical offices when attempts at reassurance or alternative explanations provided by one or several professionals are not considered satisfactory.
According to this latest study, it’s not just classic hypochondriacs who fall into this vicious circle of anxiety and obsessive seeking, nor those who suffer from generalized anxiety. Rather, several factors appear to contribute, including specific anxiety about one’s health, paralyzing uncertainty aversion, somatic symptom disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Less likely to happen to those who suffer from major depression, say the researchers, perhaps because they are more inclined to an attitude of resignation and passivity incompatible with a feverish and compulsive search.
How to cope
It’s hard to provide a one-size-fits-all solution, but according to the researchers, one promising solution is cognitive behavioral therapy. A form of psychotherapy that has already proven its effectiveness in helping people suffering from hypochondria come to terms with the uncertainty and unpredictability of life, accept the idea of not being able to control everything and learn to manage the fear of not knowing how to deal with the consequences of an illness, often the most worrying aspect related to the possibility of falling ill.