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Digital hypochondriacs: the danger of using the Internet to self-diagnose

Digital hypochondriacs: the danger of using the Internet to self-diagnose

July 14, 2024

The digital world and the existence of the Internet mean that our way of thinking has changed a lot in a few decades. It is easy to find positive aspects to this fact: now we have it easier to access large amounts of information, and even offers us the possibility to be (or seem) potentially wise with the simple ability to search data in Google.

However, there are certain cases in which this kind of expanded collective mind that is Internet plays against us, and one of the clearest examples is found in the digital hypochondria .

Auto diagnosis? More like cyberchondria

Have you ever been tempted to look for information on the Internet about possible diseases that may be behind symptoms that you experience? It is not surprising that 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 you take what you read with a critical spirit, the fact of looking for certain data through the network of networks is still another activity of search of interesting information that, given the case, can lead to a medical consultation.

However, when the appearance of a slight uncertainty about symptoms inevitably leads to self-diagnosis reading texts on the Internet, most likely we do not talk about some information search , but of digital hypochondria, also called cyberchondria .

What is digital hypochondria?

Digital hypochondria or cyberchondria, is a word of recent appearance that, despite not appearing in the diagnostic manuals, it serves to designate a style of behavior that is very detrimental both to the people who experience it and to the health community . It alludes to the concepts of cybernetics and hypochondria, which is a mental disorder by which the person believes in an unfounded way that he has one or more diseases based on very weak, ambiguous or totally imaginary evidence.

Many people find it preposterous that someone is able to think that they have Parkinson's disease because they have spilled water from a glass that they hold in their hand three times, but it may seem less bizarre 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 that in many cases is erroneous, and also puts all this within the reach of a few clicks. If we add to this the fact that in situations of uncertainty the options with more alarming consequences they have all the numbers to get more attention than the rest of possible interpretations and that human beings have an unusual capacity to feel identified with ambiguous descriptions (something called Forer effect), the possibilities of panic increase.

The negative effects of digital hypochondria

The fact of resorting to Internet search engines at the slightest symptom suspected of masking a disease has a series of negative consequences that are self-explanatory:

  • Severe anxiety crises can be experienced due to the belief that you have a serious illness.
  • It can be a very dangerous habit if we learn that the uncertainty about possible health problems can dissipate with a few clicks with the mouse.
  • In some cases, the person may hesitate between the personalized diagnosis given by the doctors and the conclusions drawn from the "self-diagnosis" process. It can happen that there is no credibility to the diagnosis given by accredited professionals of the health system and healing initiatives are undertaken on their own or through the so-called alternative therapies, which has very serious consequences for one's physical integrity .

What to do?

In order not to fall into a dynamic of behavior that drags us towards something similar to digital hypochondria, it is good to consider two things:

  • Look for indicators that certify the quality of the internet pages of medical websites, such as the HONcode seal.
  • In any case, be clear that without proper training in medicine we can not precipitate conclusions about diseases that we may have. It is worth analyzing, as far as possible, if our reasons for worrying about a series of symptoms are rationally based.

Serenity and critical spirit

There is a fine line that separates the possibility of going to the Internet in search of health information and using search engines to self-diagnose diseases.

That is why it is worth taking into account that, although it seems untrue, something that in the light of certain data has all the numbers of being a disorder or a serious health problem not only does not have to be, but rather on many occasions it is not (and it is even less likely that, in addition, the self-diagnosis coincides with the diagnosis of an expert).

Pros and cons of Google's self-diagnosis medical app (July 2024).

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