Digital hypochondriacs: the danger of using the internet for self-diagnosis

The digital world and the existence of the Internet mean that our way of thinking has changed a lot in a few decades. It is easy to find positive aspects in this fact: we now have easier access to large amounts of information, and even it offers us the possibility of being (or of appearing) potentially wise with the easy ability to search for data on Google.

However, there are some instances in which this kind of expanded collective mind that is the Internet works against us, and one of the clearest examples we find in the digital hypochondria.

Self-diagnosis? Rather cyberchondria

Have you ever been tempted to search the internet for information about possible illnesses that may be causing the symptoms you are experiencing? Unsurprisingly, your answer to the question is a resounding “yes”.

This is not in itself a bad thing, because if you have good sources of information and take what you read with a critical mind, searching for certain data across the network of networks is always a research activity. interesting information which, if necessary, can lead to a medical consultation.

However, when the appearance of slight uncertainty about symptoms inevitably leads to self-diagnosis by reading texts on the Internet, most likely, we are not talking about an information search, But of digital hypochondria, also called cyberchondria.

What is digital hypochondria?

The digital hypochondria or cyberchondria, is a word of recent appearance which, although not appearing in the manuals of diagnosis, is used to denote a style of behavior that is highly detrimental both to those who experience it and to the healthcare community. It alludes to the concepts of cybernetics and hypochondria, which is a mental disorder whereby the person has a baseless belief that they have one or more illnesses based on very weak, ambiguous, or totally imaginary evidence.

A lot of people find it bizarre that a person might think they have Parkinson’s from spilling water from a glass they are holding three times, but it might seem less bizarre if we introduce the Internet factor in this equation.

The web has a virtually endless amount of information that is not always easy to interpret and is often wrong, and also puts it all in a few clicks. If we add to this the fact that in a situation of uncertainty, the options with the most alarming consequences they have all the numbers to capture more attention than the rest of the possible interpretations and as humans have an unusual ability to feel identified with ambiguous descriptions (the so-called Forer effect), the chances of panicking increase.

The negative effects of digital hypochondria

The fact of resorting to internet search engines for the slightest suspicious symptom of masking a disease has a number of negative consequences which can be explained:

  • You can have very serious anxiety attacks because of the belief that you have a serious illness.
  • It can be a very dangerous habit if we learn that the uncertainty about possible health problems can be dissipated with a few clicks with the mouse.
  • In some cases, the person may hesitate between the personalized diagnosis made by doctors and the conclusions drawn from the “self-diagnosis” process. It may be that the diagnosis made by accredited professionals of the health system is not credible and that healing initiatives are undertaken alone or through so-called alternative therapies, which has very serious consequences for his own physical integrity.

What to do?

In order not to fall into a behavioral dynamic that pulls us towards something similar to digital hypochondria, it is good to consider two things:

  • Look for indicators that certify the quality of internet pages on medical websites, such as the HONcode label.
  • Either way, be clear that without proper training in medicine, we cannot rush to draw conclusions about any illnesses we may have. It is worth analyzing, to the extent possible, whether our reasons for worrying about a number of symptoms are rationally founded.

Serenity and critical thinking

There is a fine line between being able to go on the Internet for health information and using search engines to self-diagnose illnesses.

That is why it should be borne in mind that while it may seem like a lie, something which in light of some data has all the numbers to be a serious health disorder or problem not only does must not be, but what on so many occasions it is not (And it is even less likely that, moreover, the self-diagnosis will coincide with the diagnosis of an expert).

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