As Cyberchondria is defined as a mental disorder in which those affected by intensive research of patient awareness symptoms on the Internet develop serious fear of being seriously ill. This is a new word created from the word components “cyber” and “hypochondria”.
What is cyberchondria?
Cyberchondria is used when those affected develop or intensify hypochondriac tendencies through information on health topics on the Internet. Research into real or imagined symptoms of illness is mostly carried out in health portals or medical lexicons.
Faulty, misunderstood or dramatized representations create a distorted picture of the dangerousness of possible symptoms; an exaggerated fear of infectious diseases can also develop. Initiated and strengthened by this knowledge, psychological problems up to and including a hypochondriac disorder can arise.
The patient then suffers from massive fears regarding serious physical illnesses and cannot be convinced of the opposite even by inconclusive medical diagnostics. Excessive attention is paid to normal physical functions, even harmless symptoms are meticulously observed and misinterpreted as signs of serious physical illness.
There is disagreement as to whether hypochondriac disorders can be classified as obsessive-compulsive disorders or somatoform disorders.
The development of disorders of the hypochondriac spectrum can on the one hand be traced back to early formative experiences that disturb the trust in one’s own health and the reliability of one’s own body (e.g. serious illnesses in the close family environment, especially in childhood).
An overprotective family environment can take away the child’s confidence in their own abilities and allow the basic conviction to mature that the whole world is dangerous and unpredictable. In addition, a genetic predisposition is suspected.
The ubiquitous availability of medical knowledge on the Internet has made it particularly easy to research even harmless symptoms and to associate them with a wide variety of diseases. The lack of transparency and the amount of information available make meaningful weighting difficult for medical laypeople and thus promotes the development of cyberchondria.
Symptoms, ailments & signs
Cyberchondria can have a very negative impact on the quality of life and everyday life of the person affected. In some cases, the symptoms of the disease are also caused by the disease, which can lead to serious damage to health. Those affected generally suffer from a strong fear of suffering from an illness and therefore search the Internet intensively for symptoms.
The research is often compulsive and associated with strong fear, so that those affected by cyberchondria suffer from anxiety or panic attacks. Since the descriptions on the Internet often directly indicate certain illnesses, those affected quickly believe that they suffer from the respective illness. This can lead to treatment and possibly even to the use of medication, although this is not necessary at all.
Likewise, patients with cyberchondria very often see a doctor even though they are actually not sick at all. The disease also has a negative impact on the social environment as the sufferer turns away from his friends and family and devotes himself to the disease. Likewise, many patients suffer from [Depressive moods | mental moods]] or from depression. In some cases, cyberchondria even shortens the patient’s life expectancy.
Cyberchondria is not a fixed clinical picture in the psychiatric sense, which makes diagnosis difficult. A classic hypochondriac disorder is diagnosed when the fear of suffering from a physical illness dominates a person’s thinking and the person concerned observes the functions of his own body overly closely and misinterprets them as symptoms of the disease. In the case of cyberchondria, time-consuming internet research is also required, which exacerbates the hypochondriac symptoms.
Because patients usually go to the doctor with physical complaints, the hypochondria is often only recognized very late. It takes an average of seven years for a diagnosis to be made; At this point the behavior is often very chronic and treatment is all the more difficult.
When should you go to the doctor?
In times of modern multimedia, people also get the health information they want from the Internet. This sometimes leads to a certain amount of concern, but this is not unusual and is not necessarily a compelling reason for a visit to the doctor. Nevertheless, there are some cases in which a visit to the family doctor as a trusted contact person makes sense for those affected.
This applies, for example, to patients who are anxious about a new symptom and need medical clarification for their symptoms in order to find reassurance. This is particularly important if the cause of the search for information in the cyber area was severe pain or the suspicion of an illness that would require treatment in the near future. Here, after a detailed examination, the family doctor will either make the suspected diagnosis or rule it out.
Should the general practitioner diagnose cyberchondria instead of a physical cause due to frequent visits to the doctor by the patient for fear of illnesses self-diagnosed via the Internet, he can help with an empathetic conversation or a referral to a psychologist. For this reason, a visit to the doctor is also advisable for all those who notice that their research into medical facts on the Internet is increasingly frightening. Professional help is important at the latest when the thoughts revolve almost exclusively around supposed diagnoses and limit the lives of those affected.
Treatment & Therapy
Since cyberchondria is a relatively new phenomenon, there are no specialized treatment programs for it. Similar to hypochondria, however, psychotherapeutic treatment in the context of cognitive behavioral therapy is likely to be the method of choice.
On the one hand, an attempt is made to resolve the misconception that one suffers from a serious illness on a reasonable level. On the other hand, the patient trains to break down his hypochondria-reinforcing behavior.
In connection with cyberchondria, it would be of particular importance that the patient refrains from researching any symptoms on the Internet and builds up alternative behaviors in order to be able to effectively resolve his worries and conflicts. In severe cases, supportive drug therapy with antidepressants can also be helpful.
Outlook & forecast
The prognosis of cyberchondria depends in particular on whether the person affected recognizes the unhealthy connection between looking up the symptoms of the disease on the Internet and the increasing fear of serious illnesses. If he learns to rely on the statements of his doctors and not to do research on the Internet, there is a good chance that he will gradually be able to get rid of the cyberchondria.
The situation may be different if a person affected by cyberchondria does not recognize the negative consequences of their behavior and uses the knowledge gained from the Internet on the diagnoses of their doctors or perhaps even refrains from visiting the doctor. This can worsen the prognosis for his well-being in two ways.
On the one hand, the use of search engines is often the reason why the fear of incurable diseases can increase significantly in those affected. Looking for advice on the Internet can take on addictive traits, so that people suffering from cyberchondria spend a large part of their private and often also professional time researching the Internet.
On the other hand, the often high psychological stress on those affected can lead to psychosomatic reactions. If this is followed by headaches, stomach problems or insomnia, the patient feels confirmed in his assumption of a serious illness and the vicious circle between research and new symptoms intensifies.
Cyberchondria is a mental disorder. As with all these diseases, the same applies here: good mental hygiene is the best protection. Long-lasting stresses and conflicts, a draining way of life are always risk factors that can pave the way for this or other diseases.
Especially with regard to cyberchondria, it is usually not advisable to read up on diffuse symptoms of illness on the Internet. In most cases, there are links to the most serious illnesses even for harmless symptoms, even if an actual connection is extremely unlikely. Anyone who suffers from persistent complaints should leave the diagnosis to an experienced doctor.
In one case, follow-up care measures are limited in most cases or are not available to the person concerned. The patient is primarily dependent on rapid and, above all, early detection of the disease so that there are no further psychological upsets or depression. In the worst case, various diseases can occur even though the person concerned was not at all sick at first.
The aftercare measures in cyberchondria are limited to avoiding the triggering factors. In many cases, intensive and loving discussions with your own parents or with friends and other people you trust are helpful. In many cases, however, professional treatment by a psychologist is necessary in order to completely and, above all, permanently alleviate the symptoms.
Often, friends or relatives also have to point out the symptoms of cyberchondria to those affected so that they can initiate treatment. In serious cases, treatment in a closed clinic may even be necessary. Typically, cyberchondria does not reduce the patient’s life expectancy. Contact with other patients of the disease can also have a positive effect on the further course.
You can do that yourself
In the case of cyberchondria, with sufficient discipline, the person affected can improve their quality of life within a short period of time. There are several ways to do this. If he lives in a family or partnership environment, he can ask these people to install a password-protected Internet lock. He can also express this request to people in close social circles. In addition, there is the possibility of commissioning an Internet or PC company with this.
Since it is part of the clinical picture of cyberchondria to look for loopholes, the person affected can seek therapeutic help. In addition, with sufficient self-discipline, he can research the symptoms of the disease, reflect critically on his own behavior and then go to a doctor. In some cases it helps if the private Internet access is terminated and a non-Internet-capable cell phone is used. Each person reacts individually and should therefore ask himself which path would be possible and realistic for him.
Some experience relief by turning more attention to other areas of life. Meeting friends, exercising, changing jobs, or vacationing in an area without internet access could help. Employment in voluntary institutions can also change one’s own behavior and arouse new interests through the activity.