Cyberchondria is a state of self-inflicted medical anxiety brought on by spending too much time looking up symptoms online. It’s a growing concern among medical professionals who understand the level of nuance required to get an accurate diagnosis.
Raise your hand if the following scenario sounds familiar: you start experiencing a medical ailment, seemingly minor, but it doesn’t immediately go away. Mildly concerned, you pull up your laptop to do a quick search for your symptoms. You end up on WebMD or a site like it, which gives you a laundry list of the possible causes for your symptom — and you fixate on the worst-case options.
Been there before? You’re not alone. An increasing number of people are succumbing to cyberchondria, a recently coined anxiety disorder caused by the medical panic associated with obsessively googling your symptoms.
With no outside, informed opinion to guide you, you are left to the vague and often incredibly frightening possibilities burning into the screen in front of you. Filled with dread, you succumb to panic, and convince yourself that the worst possible scenario is coming to life. Whipped into a frenzy, you now search even harder for more symptoms and “information” online to corroborate your made-up diagnosis.
At that point, there’s no doubt about it. You’re a full-fledged cyberchondriac.
Many people don’t realize that a huge, huge part of a doctor’s day to day skillset involves making diagnoses based on the clues and symptoms that their patients exhibit. There is an unbelievable amount of nuance and finesse that goes into making a diagnosis, and it’s born from years of careful study and research.
The bottom line is that only a doctor can give you an accurate medical diagnosis. WebMD and sites like it exist in part because people can’t help themselves from going down the rabbit hole every time the slightest thing goes wrong with their body.
In reality, despite your confidence that you can figure out what’s going on yourself, you have no idea what goes into your general physician’s assessment of you. It’s an analysis built on real skill that develops over years of experience, and even a computer still isn’t as good at identifying what’s wrong with a patient as a real, live human doctor is. Think of your doctor as a highly skilled detective who has seen it all before and can cut through to what’s most likely happening.
When you give into cyberchondria, you are way underestimating how incomplete and dangerous these self-diagnosis sites can be. Instead, you should book a visit with your doctor and receive peace of mind once and for all.
Each week, Urgent 9 founder Dr. Manuel Momjian will personally weigh in on the topics covered by the blog.
The key to being a good doctor is explaining medical problems in a way that comforts a sick patient. When a patient with a neck mass comes into the clinic, a good doctor would never give them a list of cancers and then walk away.
Imagine if this was your experience every time you asked a question to your doctor: a long list of possibilities, with no personalized explanation. Even if you have no history of anxiety, I would bet on your eventual development of a full fledged panic attack. This is basically the experience of googling your medical symptoms. So, do I think that medical information should be taken off the internet? Of course not. But, the best advice that I can give my cyberchondria patients is to stop reading medical stuff online.
— Dr. Momjian