Internet Makes Hypochondria Worse
Web Can Be Misleading
Hypochondriacs are often not particularly careful about where
they get their health information. To many sufferers, Gray's Anatomy, a
half-remembered TV movie, and a harrowing health story about your hairdresser's
friend's grandmother are all equally legitimate sources.
This can lead to serious trouble for hypochondriacs using the
vast and unregulated web.
"A lot of the stuff on the Internet, especially on
health-related bulletin boards, is pure impression and anecdote," says Barsky,
"and they just don't have a lot of scientific validity."
Even the most reputable health web sites with the most accurate
information can cause trouble for the hypochondriac. "Hypochondriacs tend to
latch onto diseases with common or ambiguous symptoms or that are hard to
diagnose," says Fallon. For example, illnesses such as HIV or lupus, and
neurological disorders including multiple
sclerosis can cause vague symptoms like fatigue, swollen glands, and
strange physical sensations.
With symptoms as common as these, it's easy for hypochondriacs
to become convinced they're sick.
Second-Guessing the Doctor
Barsky and Fallon say hypochondria often breeds suspicion and
distrust between a sufferer and his or her physician. Some doctors may be too
quick to dismiss the worries of hypochondriacs, and hypochondriacs are likely
to ruin relationships with good physicians by second-guessing them from the
Hypochondriacs may "get suspicious when their doctor doesn't
give them a referral or a test they ask for," says Fallon. "They can feel like
they're not being listened to, and so they'll go shopping for another doctor
and wind up repeating the process."
No good doctor will order an MRI every time your ears are
ringing or a colonoscopy every time your stomach's upset.
"The solution is not to get tested for everything all the
time," says Barsky, "since that feeling of relief doesn't last anyway."
Instead, hypochondriacs need to learn to get help and change their way of
Resist the Surfing Urge
Treating hypochondria, once believed to be almost impossible to
cure, has improved a lot in the last decade.
Fallon was a pioneer in using antidepressants like Prozac and
Luvox to treat hypochondriacs.
Barsky has had great success in using the techniques of
cognitive behavioral psychotherapy -- persuading hypochondriacs to change their
responses to anxieties and wean themselves off the behaviors that get them in
For instance, Barsky says, a hypochondriac needs to resist the
compulsion to self-diagnose and to seek assurance from doctors and friends. The
best one can do is to get regular medical treatment from a trustworthy doctor
trust and to live a healthy life.
Fallon agrees: "In a loose sense, a hypochondriac becomes
almost addicted to looking up information, examining himself, and getting
reassurance from other people," he says. "Checking just makes things
And what about using the Internet to look up that worrisome
symptom? "If it's just going to make you upset," says Barsky. "Don't do