A Serious Healthcare Concern

The term "Cyberchondria" or cyberchondriasis is derived from the term cyber - and hyperchondria (cyber- means computer network; - chondria is derived from Greek means cartilage). Cyberchondriasis is a growing concern for healthcare professionals as many patients now search for their symptoms and ailments on the Internet, and try to self-diagnose themselves. A 'cyberchondriac' is one who needlessly fears the worst disease after using the internet to self-diagnose an ailment. This then is manifested as needless anxiety.

The term cyberchondria was first used in 2001 in an article in the UK newspaper The Independent to describe the "excessive use of the Internet health sites to fuel health anxiety". Walter Kirn in his article "Let's Not Overanalyze This - Mind / Body Viewpoint" states, "Self-diagnosis is a fool's game" (Time, Jan. 20, 2003).

Patients with cyberchondria are somehow seriously concerned that they have a serious disorder leading to anxiety. White and Horwitz (2009) based on a large-scale study defined cyberchondria as the "unfounded escalation of concerns about common symptomatology, based on the review on search results and literature. The person gets into his head, "I am sick", and asks himself "Am I normal?".

Medical websites provide a lot of information about symptoms and diseases. But the material has to be subjected to professional scrutiny by a doctor who is able to arrive at a proper diagnosis. A layperson is very likely to misinterpret and arrive at an odd or unlikely diagnosis and indulge in self-medication, which itself has its related dangers. In my clinical practice I have observed that quite a few patients before even proper consultation, offer a likely diagnosis/treatment, which they came to know from a neighbour who had similar symptoms, a popular magazine, or from the Internet. At times the patient exaggerates a set of symptoms, which is likely to even impair the doctor's ability to reach at a proper diagnosis.

It is easy to consult Dr. Google when one is feeling unwell. This can lead to a fixed idea that I'm seriously ill. Thus the cycle of medical anxiety starts, and sometimes one may even feel that a "second opinion" is required as the prescribed treatment does not tally with the information obtained from the net. The information on the net is no doubt very helpful to the professional doctor to up-date his knowledge with the latest. But to the patient it may be hazardous.

I would like to present a published case-report by White RW and Horwitz E (2008), Technical Report - MSR-TR-2008-178, pdf, Retrieved 2008, 11-26.

Case Report:

A lady for weeks had been experiencing "twitchings" all over her body. She Googled "muscle twitching". Among the results a page on a university website appeared the disease "Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease" (CJD), which is an incurable fatal brain disease, and lists "muscle twitching" as a symptom. Another listed disease was "Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis" (ALS), which again is a rare fatal disease. She approached her doctor and sadly told him that she had either had CJD or ALS. The doctor then simply diagnosed her as having "Benign Fasciculation Syndrome" (BFS), a medical name for an entirely non-life-threatening symptom.

Later, the lady Googled "BFS"'. The ailment soon warred off, and she is no longer crazy, living life happily thereafter. However, she was a cyberchondriac, a term which describes a growing number of otherwise rational internet users, who when they present their symptoms to "Dr. Google" it is likely that a terrifying diagnosis is thrown back at them. Thus, a caution, though harsh, as stated earlier by Walter Kirn "Self-diagnosis is a fool's game" should always be kept in mind. Moreover, no body is absolutely normal and healthy in all respects. It is said "A healthy person is one who is yet to be completely investigated".

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More by :  Dr. Frank S. K. Barar

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