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Cyberchondria & The Art Of Googling Oneself Silly!

An actual research study titled "Cyberchondria: Studies of the Escalation of Medical Concerns in Web Search" was recently conducted by Microsoft researchers Ryen W. White and Eric Horvitz to analyze how the Web enables those obsessed in researching illnesses. A survey of 515 Microsoft employees determined that Internet surfing regarding health issues is on the rise. Inquiring minds want to know what's ailing them and why they are obsessed with tracking down health symptoms online from the common cold to cancer.



Alligned to its sister disease, Hypochondria, Cybercondriacs often take the fears related to minor bodily symptoms to an uber-level of self-diagnosis because they either doubt their physicians or feel that the Internet offers a more vast resource of knowledge. In many instances, Cyberchondria is the cause of clinical hysteria and a baseless fueling of fears and anxiety.



Stephen JosephsonStephen JosephsonStephen Josephson, a clinical associate professor of psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, says that a lot of the health concerns people have fall broadly under the category of anxiety, which can prompt compulsive behavior.

He notes, "It's a paradox: The more you read in an attempt to reduce your fear, the more you try to figure things out, the more anxiety peaks. Very few people know how to navigate the Internet and evaluate information when they're anxious, and yet that's when they tend to go online."

Too often, those that surf the Internet regarding a specific illness often infer that because they have some symptoms, they are headed for dire results. For example, Horvitz and White use the examples of headaches, which are just as likely to be associated with "brain tumors" as it is with "caffeine withdrawal."

Their report indicated that about 2 percent of all searches were health-related. Of the 250,000 users who engaged in "health symptom" searches, roughly one-third "escalated" their Web surfing to focus on more serious - and much less common - health conditions.

Self-diagnosis is a slippery slope. For those lacking medical training, intricate data pertaining to one's health can be misinterpreted and allow Cyberchondria to consume one's life. While there are a lot of vetted of health-related Web sites online, like WebMD and Medstory, its always a wise idea to obtain additional opinions from "live" physicians that can give you a more holistic view by weighing in all factors, most important of which is your medical history.

Where I do think Cyberchondria does aid in online search is when you're determining hospital fees, malpractice cases and insurance coverage. While not specifically focused on symptoms, those types of searches actually saved me thousands of dollars in health care costs over the years!

Cyberchondria is not a bad thing -if like everything else in life - it's kept in check - and isn't allowed to consume one's everyday  life!

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Ron Callari
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