Using the web to self-diagnose can bring on Cyberchondria

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - With the Internet available at our fingertips, people with health concerns often turn to their laptop first before going to a doctor. Those that obsess over what they read on the net may be suffering from "Cyberchondria".

Cyberchondria is  technically defined as "Unfounded escalation of concerns about common symptoms based on a review of search results and online literature."

Dr. West Allen the Medical Director of AR Care clinics describes the problem in a bit simpler terms.

"Something that's a small symptom that turns into a critical bad illness and the patient becomes fixated on it," Allen said.

If you look on the Internet there are literally thousands of sites that people search for answers to their health questions. Sometimes they provide more than you want... Or even **need**... to know. They find all this information but without proper medical education and training it can quickly get out of hand.

"You're a person who has cyberchondria," Allen said.  "You can have so much anxiety about your situation that it can cause a true problem."

Patrick Phillips developed a serious health issue simply from reading and research what he thought might be a serious illness.

"I had a panic attack after reading what some of the things neurologists treat, worrying that I must have that," Phillips said. "Any little symptom if you do enough research is a symptom of something fatal. "

Allen, "Information is good but too much information is an unhealthy thing. When the person is looking for the answer sometimes before they even know what their symptoms are. That's when things can go a little haywire."

Dr. Allen says cyberchondriatics come to the doctors office armed with stacks of print-outs. Their self diagnosing often conflicts with a doctors real diagnosis or treatment plan.

"When the doctor doesn't say this because it's not cost affective or it's not the diagnosis that the doctor feels good about," Allen said.  "The patient gets upset and that's where it starts snowballing."

Economics can also drive a person to overuse a medical website. Mallory Roberts self-diagnoses from time to time.

"You want to know right then and there what you have and if you can figure out for yourself what you can do and do it without seeing a doctor," said Allen.

Sometimes you just have to force yourself away from those web searches, turn the laptop off.

Phillips says, "I've had to actually make myself stop from going to WEB and these other sites."

Roberts says she uses the Internet both as a tool for diagnosis and education.

"I like to find out more about stuff and even see it is a possibility," she said.  "But it's really just both."

Dr. Allen says don't let that laptop replace a needed trip to a medical facility for a doctor visit.

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