Are You a Cyberchondriac?

Stop googling your symptoms and imagining the worst.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
Stop googling your symptoms and imagining the worst.
Corbis/Click Photos
Corbis/Click Photos

Irecently had some lower back pain, so I googled my symptoms. Big mistake. According to the Internet, I could’ve had any of the following afflictions: appendicitis, aneurysms, a kidney infection, spinal disc degeneration, bone infections, tumours (cancerous, surely), sciatica, or spinal lesions. Of course, if it was none of those, I could’ve just had severe depression. For an anxious (read: paranoid) person like myself, seeing a list of possible health issues is enough to induce full-blown cyberchondria.


You’ve heard of hypochondria, right? The term that describes extreme (often unfounded) anxiety about your own health, like freaking out that a light headache must really be an aggressive brain tumour. Well, cyberchondria is hypochondria that’s caused or exacerbated by diagnoses of symptoms you’ve found online. “There’s so much inaccurate medical information available on the Internet,” says Dr Ai Nhi Bui from Hyde Park Medical Centre. “In fact, most of the information you come across only mentions extremes of generally rare conditions.” This, says Dr Ai, can make a person anxious for no reason.

Paging Dr Wiki

So should we trust medical advice from the web? Since anyone can post health information online, it can be difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. “You may find inaccurate, out-of-date details, or the website you’re looking at might lack credibility,” says Nadine Hamilton, principal psychologist at Positive Are You a Images Corbis/Click Photos Text Genevieve Rota. Cyberchondriac? Psych Solutions. “There could be so many explanations for any set of symptoms. A person’s self-diagnosis might be completely wrong – and if so, they’ll most likely suffer unnecessarily and potentially make themselves genuinely sick.”

Worryingly, it seems reasonable to assume that cyberchondria is on the rise, thanks to the sheer volume of stuff that’s available online. Dr Ai says, “Patients, particularly young ones, frequently come in anxious about a particular disease, especially ovarian cancer and STIs, after they’ve searched their symptoms online.” But, she warns, “Your emotional state influences your judgment – even if you’re medically trained yourself – and can make you believe you have certain symptoms [when they don’t exist].”

See a real GP

If you’re hell-bent on doing your own research, you’ll be glad to know that you can use the Internet to your benefit. Just keep a level head and your symptoms in context. In general, try to stick to reputable sources like the Health Promotion Board (www. But if you’re really worried about your well-being, nothing beats seeing your doctor.

As Dr Ai reminds us, “Having a medical expert guide and reassure you is very important – the Internet is not a replacement for proper medical care.” Plus, it won’t even give you a lollipop for being brave.

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Dos and Don’ts Do For Cyberchondriacs

Do seek professional advice from a qualified health practitioner.

Don't search your symptoms online if you’re an anxious person or a hypochondriac.

Do only access reputable, accredited websites.

Don't think you’re qualified to diagnose your own symptoms.

Do ask yourself, “Is my fear rational?”

Do remember there could be many simple explanations for any symptoms you experience.