Cyberchondria: The Digital Hypochondria

Cyberchondria is similar to hypochondria. The digital age has accelerated access to information that's not always accurate.
Cyberchondria: The Digital Hypochondria
Leticia Aguilar Iborra

Written and verified by la psicóloga Leticia Aguilar Iborra.

Last update: 02 April, 2023

The fear of suffering from a fatal disease is a normal reason for concern in people. In some cases, this can happen excessively. Cyberchondria behaviors are similar to those of hypochondria, the latter adapting to the digital age.

It’s then that the habits focused on reducing discomfort and the search for security are anchored in digital information sources, such as Internet search engines. Not all databases are reliable. In addition, the range of diagnostics available on networks is much broader.

One clear example is typing “headache” into a search engine. The possible causes are likely to range from benign factors, such as fatigue and tiredness, to more concerning issues, such as a brain tumor. Consequently, the person is trapped in a constant search as a method of alleviating his worry.

What is cyberchondria?

Almost everyone, at some point, has searched the internet for their ailments in order to find the reason why they occur. Today, most of the population in developed countries have access to the web.

However, despite being a great resource as a work tool, in addition to the benefits that new technologies and Internet access can provide, there are also risks involved. One of them is cyberchondria.

It could be said that cyberchondria is a modern version of hypochondria. The latter is characterized by excessive concern related to the state of health. This concern turns into the feeling of being convinced that you’re suffering from some serious illness.

As a way to alleviate these worries, the person with excessive concern for their health tends to carry out incessant searches about the symptoms and their explanation, in order to corroborate a diagnosis. Among these behaviors are visits to doctors and the performance of complementary tests.

With the advent of new technologies, the search for explanations that provide security or relief increases. One of the reasons discussed is its great accessibility. This increases the probability of the person turning to this type of tool every time they find a reason to worry.

Faced with any issue related to health, people with cyberchondriasis usually search the Internet on various pages, having great accessibility to unlimited sources of information. The problem is that there are sources of information that promote a self-diagnosis or that allude to natural remedies or unsubstantiated prescriptions.

Woman performs search on her phone.
Internet accessibility has multiplied, which favors constant searches anywhere.

The consequences of cyberchondria

There’s no doubt that cyberchondria can cause a person even greater worries. This leads to a state of constant anxiety, which is explained by the great availability of information on the internet.

The information can be extensive and in some cases, technical and incomprehensible for the person, leading to a greater state of uncertainty than before. As a result, the levels of anxiety and anguish caused by the information obtained from Internet search engines make it easier for the person to search again.

This way of corroborating that the information obtained is found in other sources of information increases their concern and anguish. Therefore, the state of anxiety is constant, reaching in some cases obsessive forms.

Sometimes the information that’s obtained can be reassuring to the person. However, this doesn’t last long, increasing the fear of having a serious illness. In this way, another search begins to corroborate the causes of the symptoms and contrast with other sources, sometimes unaware of their veracity.

Another consequence of cyberchondria is the way of wanting to control the feeling of insecurity that’s obtained with this type of search. In some cases, people may request diagnostic tests that aren’t necessary and can be expensive.

There are smartphone applications that evaluate the symptoms that afflict a person without the results being totally reliable. In some cases, these types of applications are free, with people with limited resources being potential users, substituting medical visits.

How to avoid carrying out internet searches

There’s no doubt that it’s crucial to corroborate the causes with a medical specialist. In any case, if the symptoms continue to be a cause for concern and the levels of anxiety and anguish prevent a full life, the assistance of a psychologist is also important to address this problem.

Medical assistance and searches in reliable sources

If the symptoms continue to cause concern over time, checking them with the help of a medical specialist and with pertinent medical tests is important. Also, evaluating the reliability of information sources means avoiding personal blogs.

On the contrary, the most accurate data can be found in information sources based on scientific rigor, the result of research. Official medical sites are a clear example.

Cyberchondria leading a woman to search online for symptoms and feel anxious.
The search never stops in the case of cyberchondria, leading to a vicious cycle of anxiety and worry.

Avoid overload of information and consider starting psychological treatment

Excess information is more confusing than a lack of information. Internet tools are a double-edged sword. In turn, carrying out self-diagnostics online generates greater uncertainty. The fact of having a diagnostic label without certainty from a specialist increases the feeling of lack of control and anxiety.

With the latter, the need for psychological treatment should be considered if the problem generates daily discomfort. Anxiety, obsessive thoughts about the disease, and fear of the consequences of serious diseases can be addressed by a psychologist. The cognitive-behavioral approach has been one of the most tested options.

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Los contenidos de esta publicación se redactan solo con fines informativos. En ningún momento pueden servir para facilitar o sustituir diagnósticos, tratamientos o recomentaciones provenientes de un profesional. Consulta con tu especialista de confianza ante cualquier duda y busca su aprobación antes de iniciar o someterse a cualquier procedimiento.