Do You Suffer From Cyberchondria?

Researchers say that people who self-diagnose are more likely to believe they have a serious illness.

Our bodies do strange things sometimes. And with the amount of information we have readily available at our fingertips, who can resist the urge to opt for a few quick Google searches rather than going to see a health care practitioner?

These practices, however, may be fostering a culture of hypochondriacs—or in this case, what is often referred to as “cyberchondria.”

According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, people who self-diagnose are more likely to believe they have a serious illness. This is because prospective patients don’t consider the likelihoods associated with contracting particular diseases, and are merely concerned with matching symptoms.

In the study participants were more accurate in diagnosing other people’s symptoms than they were in evaluating their own health. The researchers give the example that when someone else suffers from indigestion, we are likely to perceive the condition as indigestion; whereas, these symptoms, when experienced ourselves, are more likely to be perceived as a heart attack.

Over-diagnosing can lead to unnecessary medical action, which could lead to increased risks and could be costly for societies in the long run.

Is the Internet a good resource?

Aside from our poor ability to diagnose ourselves, anyone can publish health or medical advice on the Internet under the guise of an “expert.” While there may be several credible online resources backed by scientific research, the best approach is to consult a health care practitioner for a professional diagnosis, and if you want to learn more about a specific condition, have them recommend reading materials. They may already offer take-home materials from their office.

Preparing to meet a professional

It can be an intimidating meeting with a health care professional. Consider bringing someone—a supportive family member or a friend—to an appointment. This can be especially helpful if there issues with language or other barriers to communication.

Complementary versus conventional medicine

Millions of Canadians use complementary and alternative forms of medicine (CAMs), but as many as half don’t inform their doctors. With most diseases, an integrative method is often the best approach. This means that it’s important to develop strong communications with our health care practitioners.  


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