Do you search compulsively for health information online? You could have this common disorder
In the age of "Dr. Google," it can be tempting to click your way to self-diagnosis — but an overload of health information can cause its own set of symptoms.
"Cyberchondria," a subset of health anxiety, is described as a condition in which an individual excessively searches for health information online.
While cyberchrondria may not start as a physical disease, it can cause intense levels of anxiety and fear that can negatively impact a person's health, according to Dr. Maggie Williams, a family physician in Scottsdale, Arizona, and medical director for MDLIVE Virtual Primary Care.
BLOOD TEST MAY PREDICT THE ORGANS IN THE BODY THAT ARE AGING FASTER THAN NORMAL, SAYS STANFORD STUDY
Dr. Marc Siegel, clinical professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center and a Fox News medical contributor, said he and his colleagues used to call the condition "medical students' disease."
An overload of health information can cause its own set of symptoms called "cyberchondria," or heightened health anxiety. (iStock)
"When you know a little, but not enough, you imagine you have everything and constantly worry," he told Fox News Digital.
Although cyberchondria is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a formal diagnosis, it’s thought to be closely related to hypochrondria, a more general heightened anxiety about one’s health.
CDC'S COMMENTS ON TODAY'S PNEUMONIA OUTBREAKS VS. THE EARLY COVID CASES, AS COMPARED BY EXPERTS
In 2014, two U.K. researchers, Eoin McElroy and Mark Shevlin, created a "cyberchrondria severity scale" that measures a person's score across eight areas: compulsion, distress, excessiveness, reassurance seeking and mistrust of medical professionals.
Growing prevalence of cyberchrondria
As Siegel pointed out, the condition is becoming more common over time.
"The invention of the internet and then the perfection of search engines created a global hypochondria, where patients searched to find possible explanations for their symptoms," he said.
"The invention of the internet and then the perfection of search engines created a global hypochondria, where patients searched to find possible explanations for their symptoms," a doctor told Fox News Digital. (iStock)
"It especially increased during the pandemic, when dogma abounded and everyone was suddenly an expert," Siegel added.
A study published in JIMR Formative Research last year found that COVID-19 caused a spike in the condition in spring 2020, as people experienced higher levels of "cyberchondria-related distress and compulsion during the pandemic."
"The invention of the internet and then the perfection of search engines created a global hypochondria, where patients searched to find possible explanations for their symptoms."
One user shared experiences with cyberchrondria on Reddit: "I thought that I might see something that will ease my mind, but … it makes it all worse and worse. Out of the 100 times I checked a symptom online, only 10 of them kinda made me feel safe."
Another user wrote, "I'm pretty sure I have this. The pandemic definitely made my health anxiety worse. Unfortunately, the pandemic also made it harder to get in to see a doctor in a timely manner and so the internet is the next logical place to look for answers."
In one study, more than half of respondents said they searched online instead of going to the doctor — and more than two in five turned to social media to ask about their symptoms. (iStock)
In a small study by MDLIVE Virtual Primary Care, more than half of respondents said they searched online instead of going to the doctor, and more than two in five (42%) turned to social media to ask about their symptoms.
Another 22% said they rely on artificial intelligence for medical answers.
CHATGPT FOUND BY STUDY TO SPREAD INACCURACIES WHEN ANSWERING MEDICATION QUESTIONS
Nearly half of the 518 respondents, who provided data in August 2023, said they have misdiagnosed or mistreated an issue based on information they found online.
As Siegel warned, online medical information "isn't often accurate, and it isn't filtered, and it lacks clinical judgment."
Telltale signs of cyberchondria
Several signs may indicate that people are experiencing cyberchondria, Williams said.
10 FUNCTIONAL HEALTH PREDICTIONS FOR 2024, ACCORDING TO A DOCTOR AND A WELLNESS EXPERT
"Most people may not recognize the symptoms before it’s too late, after they’ve invested hours, delayed access to the doctor and worsened their overall anxiety," she told Fox News Digital.
One warning sign is spending one to three hours or more at a time searching for symptoms online.
A quarter of survey respondents said that when experiencing a health issue, they spend more than one hour searching for their symptoms online. (iStock)
A quarter of the survey respondents said that when experiencing a health issue, they spend more than one hour searching for their symptoms online.
Obsessive medical searches may also get in the way of day-to-day activities, Williams noted.
In the MDLIVE study, 41% of respondents said that compulsively searching for symptoms has gotten in the way of their daily tasks.
"Most people may not recognize the symptoms before it’s too late, after they’ve invested hours, delayed access to the doctor and worsened their overall anxiety."
"You may feel a compulsion to search online constantly, often rechecking symptoms multiple times, despite having completed an exhaustive search," Williams said.
Another symptom of cyberchrondria is high levels of distress and anxiety when searching for symptoms online — an rather than easing of concerns.
It’s best to consult with a health care professional at the onset of any symptoms, a doctor advised. (iStock)
Fifty-eight percent of the participants in MDLIVE’s study said that searching online for their symptoms made them more anxious.
"You may also have a heightened fixation on a particularly serious disease or condition, despite any evidence that you are suffering from it," Williams added.
Addressing or preventing cyberchondria
If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of cyberchondria, Williams said it’s important to set boundaries on the time spent searching for health information online.
"Resist the urge to check and recheck symptoms," she advised.
FREE COVID TESTS COMING TO US SCHOOLS, SAYS FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: ‘PREVENTING THE SPREAD’
She also recommends avoiding "deep diving" into online forums or threads where people share "worst-case scenarios."
"These tend to be exceptions rather than the rule, which can unnecessarily increase your anxiety," she said.
It’s best to consult with a health care professional at the onset of any symptoms, Williams advised.
For those who might have trouble physically getting to a doctor’s office, a doctor suggested setting up a telehealth visit to address concerns in a timely manner, which will reduce the temptation to dive into online searching. (iStock)
"They can provide accurate information about your health concerns, potentially helping you to sidestep the slippery slope of cyberchondria," she said.
Siegel noted that as a physician, one of his jobs is to help patients sort through their fears and worries and put them in perspective of real risk and disease.
"You may also have a heightened fixation on a particularly serious disease or condition, despite any evidence that you are suffering from it."
"This is even more the case with social media, where you end up searching through videos — especially TikTok — and become convinced you have a disease," he said. "This all increases anxiety and is bad for health."
For those who might have trouble physically getting to a doctor’s office, Williams suggested setting up a telehealth visit to address concerns in a timely manner, which will reduce the temptation to dive into online searching.
CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP FOR THEIR HEALTH NEWSLETTER
It's important to address cyberchrondria seriously, just as you would with any other health issue, she said.
"If you're experiencing anxiety related to your health, you may find it helpful to speak with a mental health professional."
For people suffering from cyberchondria, experts recommend finding a trustworthy doctor who can guide them. (iStock)
While there are some reputable sources of health information on the internet, not all online information is factual or trustworthy.
"I still rely on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institutes for Health, Mayo Clinic, NYU Langone and CIDRAP (Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy)," said Siegel.
CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP
That said, he warned that even vetted medical websites can still sometimes be wrong.
For those suffering from cyberchondria, Siegel advised them to find a doctor they can trust who can help guide them, while at the same time pulling back from online sources.
For more Health articles, visit www.foxnews.com/health.
Melissa Rudy is health editor and a member of the lifestyle team at Fox News Digital.
Office of the Chief Information Officer
The Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) equips members of the Smithsonian community with the technology tools, services, and applications they need to carry out their responsibilities effectively. OCIO manages a state-of-the-art data center in Herndon, VA, supporting Smithsonian facilities and staff in Washington, New York, Cambridge, MA, the country Panama, and other locations around the world. Beyond ensuring robust day-to-day operations, OCIO professionals partner with subject matter experts throughout the Institution to deliver leading-edge technology solutions in areas of strategic importance.
OCIO has played a key role in the development and delivery of the “Digital Smithsonian,” making their vast collections, research, and educational resources accessible online to millions of people around the world. Over the past decade, OCIO has dedicated significant resources to the digitization of collections and research data and to making their digital assets accessible to the public via the web, social media, in-museum technologies, etc.
Empower all Smithsonian staff members with the technology solutions they need to do their best work.
Deliver enterprise solutions that respond to the organization’s complex and ever-evolving requirements.
Safeguard the Smithsonian’s information resources and operations by implementing a robust IT security program.
Expand central and unit capability to create and manage digital content from collections.
Enable the full, coordinated sharing of Smithsonian cultural, scientific, and information resources with the public.
Create a technology environment that supports and strengthens the Institution’s scientific research enterprise.
Our Public Projects
Digitization Program Office
The Digitization Program Office was founded to “integrate digitization into the core functions of the Smithsonian.The scale and diversity of Smithsonian collections presents a unique digitization challenge. The Digitization Program Office meets the challenge by establishing metrics that track digitization progress across the Smithsonian; by running pilot and production digitization prototype projects in their museums; by investigating cutting-edge technologies such as 3D digitization in their application to their collections and scientific research; and by investigating additional tools and techniques such as robotic and conveyor belt capture to further increase productivity.
With only 1% of their collection on display in Smithsonian museum galleries, digitization affords the opportunity to bring the remaining 99% of their collection into the virtual light. All of these digital assets become the infrastructure which allows not just the Smithsonian, but the world at large to tell new stories about the familiar, as well as unfamiliar, treasures in their collections.
Collections Search Center
The Smithsonian Collections Search Center is an online catalog containing a digital record for most major collections in their museums, archives, libraries, and research units. There are over 17.4 million records of museum objects, archives, and library materials including more than 7.5 million online images, audio, videos, and blog posts.
SI Digital Asset Management System
The SI Digital Asset Management System (SI DAMS) serves as the Smithsonian’s enterprise digital media repository and provides trustworthy storage, management, access, delivery, and preservation. SI DAMS works as an underlying mechanism to ensure the stewardship of the Smithsonian’s digital media assets in order to support the Institution’s essential mission—the increase and diffusion of knowledge.
Office of Research Computing
Smithsonian Research Computing as part of the Office of the Chief Information Officer is working to build an e-research infrastructure that supports all aspects of the research life-cycle from project planning through analysis, publishing and long term data management.
A dynamic new initiative, Smithsonian Music, is bringing together these rich resources from throughout the Institution’s museums and research centers to provide unique musical opportunities and increase access to the nation’s collections.
The Office of the Chief Information Officer supports this program by serving on the Smithsonian Music Executive Committee to help encourage collaboration between music enthusiasts and scholars across the Institution by providing collaboration tools, developing and maintaining a website and providing resources to operate to generate content on a day-to-day basis.