The Internet constantly exposes us to a myriad of information that is very often difficult to verify. All the more so when it comes to free and handy information that generally concerns our health. Many people develop a real anxiety when they search for medical information on the web. How does hypochondria change in the days of the Internet? We talk about this issue with Dr. Agnese Rossi, psychotherapist at Humanitas.
It is not a scientific term but someone has already coined the term “cyberchondria” to define it. Thanks to the Internet, patients can now search the web for any disease and all the symptoms associated with it simply by consulting the web. This can lead to the patient manifesting a state of medical anxiety and hindering the diagnosis of the doctor by exaggerating, reducing or eliminating a set of symptoms in support of their self-diagnosis, thus jeopardizing the correct diagnosis of the specialist.
According to a study by the Pew Research Center, the Washington-based U.S. think tank that provides information on social issues, public opinion, demographic trends about the United States and the world in general, 72% of Internet users surveyed have searched for online health information in the last year and 35% of U.S. adults have tried to self-diagnose a medical condition using the Internet. Another study found that 10% of participants felt anxiety and fear about the medical information found online.
How to reduce anxiety
The overexposure to the media that we are now getting used to justifies in part a greater tendency to anxiety. While it would have been difficult to know all the stories of those who have been defeated by the disease before, now social networks make sure that you don’t miss one. This is of course a cause for concern, also because the human brain has developed a greater sensitivity to unpleasant news for survival purposes.
If we can’t help but do a search on the Internet before we go to the specialist, we’d better be careful of the sources. According to The New York Times Magazine some sites that appear first when we look for a symptom on the Internet show by default the worst case scenario and frighten users for a financial gain. It is therefore important to select our sources, turning to scientifically certified sites.
Health anxiety grows in times of stress
Sometimes an excessive health concern is a symptom of depression or anxiety disorder, which must be recognized to receive treatment. Other times we worry too much about health because unconsciously we are looking for the attention of our friends and family. In all these cases consulting a psychotherapist can be useful.