Digital hypochondriacs: the danger of using the Internet for self-diagnosis
A phenomenon that can cause anxiety and is generating concern in the healthcare community.
The digital world and the existence of the Internet mean that our way of thinking has changed a lot in just a few decades. It is easy to find positive aspects to this fact: we now have easier access to large amounts of information, and we are even offered the possibility of being (or being the possibility of being (or appearing to be) potentially wise with the simple with the simple ability to Google data.
However, there are certain cases in which this kind of expanded collective mind that is the Internet plays against us, and one of the clearest examples is found in the digital hypochondria.
Self-diagnosis? More like cyberchondria
Have you ever been tempted to search the Internet for information about possible diseases that may be behind symptoms you experience? Not surprisingly, your answer to the question is a resounding "yes".
This is not a bad thing in itself, because if you have good sources of information and take what you read critically, searching for certain information on the Internet is just another activity in search of interesting information that, if necessary, can lead to a medical consultation.
However, when the appearance of a slight uncertainty about some symptoms leads irremediably to self-diagnosis by reading texts on the Internet, the chances are that we are not talking about a medical consultation, it is most likely that we are not talking about a certain search for informationbut of digital hypochondriaalso called cyberchondria.
What does digital hypochondria consist of?
Digital hypochondria or cyberchondriais a word of recent appearance that, although it does not appear in the diagnostic manuals, serves to designate a behavioral style that is very harmful both for the people who experience it and for the health community, is used to designate a behavioral style that is highly detrimental both to the individuals who experience it and to the health care community.. It alludes to the concepts of cybernetics and hypochondriasis, which is a mental disorder whereby the person unfoundedly believes that he or she has one or more diseases based on very weak, ambiguous or totally imaginary evidence.
To many people it seems far-fetched that someone would be able to think they have Parkinson's disease because they have spilled water from a glass they are holding in their hand three times, but it may seem less outlandish if we introduce the Internet factor into this equation.
The network has a practically infinite amount of information that is not always easy to interpret and in many cases is erroneous, and it also puts all this at the reach of a few clicks. If we add to this the fact that in situations of uncertainty, the options with the most alarming consequences have every chance of attracting more attention than the rest of the possible interpretations and that human beings have an unusual capacity to identify with ambiguous descriptions (something called the Forer effect), the chances of panic increase.
The negative effects of digital hypochondria
Turning to Internet search engines at the slightest suspected symptom of masking an illness has a number of self-explanatory negative consequences:
One can come to experience very severe anxiety crises due to the belief that one has a serious illness.
It can be a very dangerous habit if we learn that uncertainty about possible health problems can be dispelled with a few mouse clicks.
In some cases, the person may hesitate between the personalized diagnosis given by physicians and the conclusions drawn from the "self-diagnosis" process. It may even be the case that the diagnosis given by accredited professionals of the health system is not given credibility and self-healing initiatives or so-called alternative therapies are undertaken, which has very serious consequences for one's own physical integrity.
What to do?
In order not to fall into a behavioral dynamic that drags us into something similar to digital hypochondria, it is good to consider two things:
To look for indicators that certify the quality of medical websites, such as the HONcode seal.
In any case, it should be clear that without adequate medical training we cannot jump to conclusions about diseases we may have. It is worthwhile to analyze, as far as possible, whether our reasons for worrying about a series of symptoms are rationally based.
Serenity and critical thinking
There is a fine line between going to the Internet in search of health information and using search engines to self-diagnose illnesses.
That is why it is worth bearing in mind that, although it may seem untrue, something that in the light of certain data has all the signs of being a disorder or a serious health problem not only does not have to be so, but in many cases it is not. in many, many occasions it is not (and it is even less likely that, in addition, the self-diagnosis coincides with the diagnosis of an expert).
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)