MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Most people have gone to the Internet to find out more about a health problem at some point in their lives. However, that simple search could lead to a growing condition known as “cyberchondria.”
From the common cold to rare and exotic diseases, there is information about every possible ailment available online. Medical experts recently told CBS 4’s Vanessa Borge that for many people, what they discover could be more dangerous to their health than their actual illness.
“It’s like hypochondria, that is triggered by the Internet,” said Dr. Nitin K. Sethi of the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.
The growing trend causes sufferers to spend hours online, self diagnosing, and stressing out.
“My left arm was getting quite numb and sore. I looked that up and the first thing that shows up, heart attack,” Lisa Lok, a self-proclaimed cyberchondriac, told CBS 4.
By the time some patients get in to see an actual doctor they already think that they are suffering from the worst.
“You kind of start thinking, this is what I have and that fear gets escalated,” explained Dr. Sethi.
Lok, 28, said that she can’t stop searching, because every symptom that she reads about leads to the discovery of another one.
“I’m hoping to find a sense of relief, but usually the exact opposite thing happens. I’m stressing myself, do I have this? Do I have that?” she explained.
Lok has diagnosed herself with everything from heart disease to melanoma, but there has never been anything wrong with her aside from the stress and anxiety that she suffers as a result of self-diagnosing.
“I’ve gotten yelled at by numerous people in my family because I’m stressing myself out for no reason, and that’s bad for health in the first place,” she said.
Some cyberchondriacs say that the constant surfing and searching makes them feel even worse.
“You keep reading all this information because it’s not just from one person, it’s from various sources,” J’Nelle Agee said.
Medical experts caution that reading misinformation online can lead to more dangerous problems.
“The thing with the Internet is there’s just an enormous amount of information out there and much of it is not reliable or accurate,” explained Dr. David Rose of New York Hospital in Queens.
Cyberchondria may even cause some people to delay treatment, with deadly consequences.