What Is Cyberchondria and How Do You Deal with It?

What is cyberchondria? It's an obsessive disorder where the affected person constantly seeks answers to health issues on the internet.
What Is Cyberchondria and How Do You Deal with It?

Last update: 09 May, 2021

Cyberchondria is an anxiety disorder that hasn’t been around for a long time. However, it’s quickly becoming more well known because of our constant connection to the internet and its massive network. But what is cyberchondria and how do you deal with it?

Many of us live in constant connection through emails, phone apps and now even televisions, appliances and cars that are connected to the internet. This access has never existed before in human history.

This era of hyper-connectivity brings with it an era of knowledge dissemination. Just by typing a question in a browser or in an application, we get countless answers. Of course, some of them are more reliable than others.

When it comes to human health issues, reliability is vital. Search engine responses can mix accurate information with inaccurate information. That’s why it’s so important to be sure we’re able to search and discern among all that information.

So, let’s talk about cyberchondria. First, it’s an obsessive concern for our state of health because of what we read in our internet searches. These searches are meant to provide a quick and effective response for what the person already assumes they have.

The data is obvious. In Spanish-speaking counties, surveys report that eight out of ten people search the internet for health topics. Also, of that group, six out of ten are looking for the illnesses and symptoms they suffer from.

The internet is a wonderful tool, and health care continues to benefit greatly from technology. However, there’s a risk of overexposure to information that some people can’t handle.

What is cyberchondria?

According to mental health manuals, cyberchondria is an anxiety disorder, just like hypochondria. However, that single definition isn’t enough for a diagnosis. 

There are professionals who argue that cyberchondria doesn’t exist by itself, but that it’s a variant of hypochondria. Ultimately, the underlying disorder is anxiety, and it falls under the category of extreme health anxiety.

In addition, professionals have seen a connection between cyberchondria and low self-esteem. In itself, internet abusers in general, who consume it compulsively, tend to have low self-esteem. But, what does abusive use of the internet even mean? Let’s see:

  • Spending excessive time connected to the internet every day
  • Inability to stop using the internet yourself
  • Using the internet in a way that disrupts aspects of everyday life

These characteristics add up to a pathological use of the internet. Then, if the person continues this behavior over time, and their quality of life is impacted, it’s certain that they have an internet addiction. 

Cyberchondria, on the other hand, is compatible with obsessive-compulsive disorders. Searching the internet excessively for something is a defense mechanism to control negative recurring thoughts. When it comes to our health, it’s as if a serious illness could magically be prevented.

Worried woman

Risks of cyberchondria

Having cyberchondria has consequences that can affect our quality of life. For example, some of the consequences you may experience are:

  • Anxiety: We can’t get rid of our anxiety with an internet search. Instead, it may actually worsen.
  • Medical expenses: An internet search may suggest costly and unnecessary supplements. The patient may pay more attention to the website than to an actual professional who is suggesting other treatments.
  • Social inequality: Access to the internet isn’t the same all over the world, just like access to healthcare. When both inequalities are combined, low-income groups may look at health topics on free internet services to avoid paying for medical consultation. As a result, they might be putting themselves at risk.
Frustrated woman

Treatments

Firstly, the affected person needs to take certain measures to treat cyberchondria. Although it’s usually difficult for them, there are steps that can only be taken by those who are suffering from it. They must work with the environment around them.

Among these initial steps is the logical one of making a doctor’s appointment rather than doing endless internet searches. The professional will know how to diagnose your problem better than a search engine.

However, this doesn’t mean that you should stop searching the internet for medical topics. Instead, what you need to do is fine-tune your search by looking for reputable sources. One way to do this is to read articles with medical endorsements or those from recognized health institutions. 

Also, it’s a good idea to not pay excessive attention to drugs’ virtual leaflets. The information present there on adverse side effects tends to be excessive for legal reasons.

In addition, if your cyberchondria persists even after you’ve taken general measures to treat it, you need to start psychological treatment. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most widely used approaches for these disorders. 

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  • Armstrong, L., Phillips, J. G., & Saling, L. L. (2000). Potential determinants of heavier internet usage. International journal of human-computer studies, 53(4), 537-550.
  • Rubio, Gonzalo Casino. “Cibercondría.” Jano: Medicina y humanidades 67.1544 (2004): 48.
  • Baumgartner, S. E., & Hartmann, T. (2011). The role of health anxiety in online health information search. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 14(10), 613-618.