If You Can't Stop Googling Your Symptoms, It Could Be A Sign Of This Serious Issue
by Emily Dixon
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Do you Google every change in your body for fear it's a symptom of something bigger? Have you convinced yourself you're suffering from an illness you've read about online, to the point of worry or distress? Are you constantly at the doctor's, often armed with a series of bookmarked websites? If so, you could be dealing with cyberchondria, a form of health anxiety which the Guardian defines as "compulsively using search engines and websites in the hope of finding reassurance about medical fears, only to self-diagnose further ailments." Take a look at the five signs you might have cyberchondria listed below; if any of them sound familiar, it's worth discussing the matter with a doctor.

As the Guardian reports, researchers have established the European Problematic Use of the Internet Research Network in order to further examine cyberchondria, as well as cyberhoarding (the "reluctance to delete information gathered online") and addiction to online activities including gaming, gambling, and watching porn. The network, consultant psychiatrist Professor Naomi Fineberg told the newspaper, was established in the absence of a concrete understanding of internet-related disorders. Cyberchondria, Professor Fineberg said, is "more common than we realise." Wondering if you're dealing with it yourself? Have a read of five common symptoms of the condition.


You're Constantly Googling Your Symptoms

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"What [people with health anxiety] used to do was search encyclopaedias and medical dictionaries and so on looking for signs and symptoms that they thought were serious,” Professor Fineberg, of the University of Hertfordshire, told the Guardian. "Of course, with the evolution of online resources people now search the internet for signs and symptoms potentially indicative of a serious disease." If your need to Google symptoms is becoming problematic, talk about it with your GP.


You Make Repeated Doctor's Appointments

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A report from Imperial College London states that "up to one in five people attending medical clinics have abnormal health anxiety, which may be made worse by people researching their symptoms online." If you're compelled to constantly make doctor's appointments — despite being assured that you're not ill — you could be dealing with cyberchondria. (It has, however, been demonstrated that doctors often dismiss marginalised people’s pain; if you're not sure what's going on, it might be worth speaking to a medical professional you trust who can determine whether you're dealing with anxiety or not.)


You Don't Believe Your Doctor's Verdict

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Do you mentally tally the reasons the doctor could have misdiagnosed you as soon as you leave the surgery? That could be another indication of cyberchondria — though again, as mentioned above, people in marginalised groups often find their pain minimised by doctors. According to the BBC, a study conducted by researchers from Imperial College London and King's College London found that advice from medical professionals often failed to quell patients' worries. "Even when a doctor offered reassurance that there was no underlying physical reason for their symptoms, patients continued to worry and look for a diagnosis," the BBC reports.


Researching Your Symptoms Actually Makes You Feel Worse

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Psychology Today points out that as with many anxiety disorders, seeking reassurance about a symptom provides temporary relief at best, and can actually worsen your anxiety or sustain it in the long run. The magazine cites a study into people with cyberchondia by the New York Psychiatric Institute; it found that "during and after their checking sessions, they report[ed] far higher anxiety than individuals scoring low on the illness anxiety scale." Constant checking making you feel awful? Tell your GP about it.


Your Health Fears Escalate


You start by Googling a rash on your leg. Next, it's "rash + skin cancer." Within five minutes, you're researching a rare and malignant type of cancer that affects 0.001 per cent of the population — and you're certain you have it. National Geographic reports on a 2008 Microsoft study into the search patterns of Microsoft search engine users. "About one-third of people searching for medical-related terms tended to “escalate” their searches, the study found, meaning that their search would ratchet up to more and more dire outcomes," the magazine says. If that sounds familiar, consider speaking to your doctor.


Concerned you might be dealing with cyberchondria? There's treatment out there, and studies have demonstrated its efficacy. According to the study by Imperial and King's researchers, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) proved to be "much more effective at improving health anxiety than standard care," and the impact of treatment lasted up to five years, the BBC reports. If your cyberchondria is impacting your life, don't hesitate to take your concerns to a GP.