Cyberchondria 101: Why Googling Your Symptoms Makes You Feel Worse!

Sorry, aloe vera and coconut oil gargle won't cure your sore throat!

A recent Google trend report about Internet surfing habits in India threw up an interesting revelation.

Turns out, we love a good ol' DIY project to tackle our medical queries! Some of the most Googled questions were 'How to make coronavirus vaccine at home?' and 'How to improve immunity against COVID?'

Questions about plasma therapy and home remedies for COVID were the other burning questions. While it is refreshing to see everyone paying attention to any malaise, it also points that people are placing a tad too much trust in Dr Internet to self-diagnose. 

Dr Sanjay Shah, general physician, Fortis Hospital, Mulund, says, "More often than not, an Internet-based self-diagnosis can lead to misdiagnosis or over-diagnosis. For example, when you search for ‘headache’, you are likely to find around 20 results showing different interpretations of headaches. So, even if your headache has a minor cause or solution, the Internet search may convince you that you are battling a cancerous tumour or some other neurological problem. This will only freak you out and cause a high level of stress." 

On the flip side, you can are also likely to pass off a serious illness as a minor problem after a quick Internet search instead of consulting a doctor.

Turns out there is a name for this penchant to google every symptom and then worrying yourself over your imaginary illness. It is called cyberchondria and the threat is very real. Dr Pradeep Shah, general physician, Fortis Hospital, Mulund agrees. He says, "Cyberchondria happens when a person gets extremely anxious about their health due to excessive use of the Internet to search for medical information. This is becoming a growing problem as people resort to finding out what the Internet has to say about their health. People with cyberchondria tend to misinterpret normal bodily changes and minor physical symptoms as signs of serious illness or disease. For many people living with health anxiety, fear can become so severe that it interferes with work and relationships." 

Dr Shah also reveals that sometimes patients approach them with a list of questions about their symptoms and medical condition or with a diagnosis they have received from the Internet. "We would call them empowered patients, but quite often these people display a lack of trust in the health advice offered by doctors. We must understand that no technology or internet search can completely replace professional medical help. By doing so, you are inadvertently putting yourself both at risk of anxiety and incorrect diagnosis and can end up spending more money on healthcare," he says. 

Using search engines to gain knowledge about health topics is great but you must check the source of the information too. Most of these websites and apps do not know your medical history or actual symptoms and often, their suggestions are not made by medical practitioners.

So, what can you do?

Well, for starters, seek information online from portals by health clinics, hospital websites, reputed health magazines and publications. Then, use that information just as a precaution and do not delay consulting with medical professionals. "Do your online research, then write down your questions and talk to your doctor or a health centre, or someone who knows how to tie all the pieces together."