PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – From the common cold to the rarest and most exotic diseases, the Internet is filled with information about every possible ailment.
For some people, by the time they see the doctor they think the worst based on what they’ve read online.
“I think it’s most common when patients develop a new symptom, and they’re worried about a new diagnosis,” Allegheny General Hospital Internist Dr. Marc Itskowitz said.
It’s called cyberchondria and it’s a growing trend that has sufferers spending hour after hour online reading, 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,” said a young patient.
“Understanding what they’re worried about is really critical, because if you don’t address it, they’re going to continue to worry about it,” Dr. Itskowitz said.
Lisa Lok, 28, said she can’t stop. With each symptom she reads about, there’s another right behind it and more behind that.
“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?” Lok said.
Lisa has diagnosed herself with everything from heart disease to melanoma, but there’s never been anything wrong with her other than the stress and anxiety she suffers from 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,” Lok said.
“If you spend a lot of time online, looking up your ailments, you may wind up with the wrong diagnosis, and it may cause a lot of emotional distress. A simple 15 or 30-minute office visit can eliminate all that stress,” Dr. Itskowitz said.
Cyberchondria can even cause some people to delay treatment or avoid preventive health care and that can have deadly consequences.
“I think the information is generally accurate on reputable websites. But, there are a lot of crazy websites out there, spewing out information that is just completely outrageous,” Dr. Itskowitz said.
When looking at health websites, look for information that is supported by scientific studies, and for material that is peer-reviewed. Be suspicious if the source is anonymous, if there’s profit to gain, or if there’s a claim for a miracle cure.