Do You Have Cyberchondria?

Photo by Julie70 used under Creative Commons

Photo by Julie70 used under Creative Commons

Do you, or someone you love, suffer from that rare form of prostate cancer that only affects women? Or from that flesh-eating fungus that has jumped species and a plane from the Amazon to afflict you in the US?

Finally, there’s a word for this behavior.


I guess that word was coined a while back, but it’s new to me. Described by the Urban Dictionary (the best information source on the ‘tubes) as:

When one become so obsessed with medical websites on the internet that they diagnose themselves with certain illnesses that more often then not they don’t have, thus making the situation worse.

There’s really no way to combat this condition. Lifehacker clued me into the term; Microsoft Research published results of a study that observed people who used the ‘tubes as a “self-diagnostic” tool. From the abstract:

Our results show that Web search engines have the potential to escalate medical concerns. We show that escalation is influenced by the amount and distribution of medical content viewed by users, the presence of escalatory terminology in pages visited, and a user’s predisposition to escalate versus to seek more reasonable explanations for ailments. We also demonstrate the persistence of post-session anxiety following escalations and the effect that such anxieties can have on interrupting user’s activities across multiple sessions.

I especially like the phrase “post-session anxiety” and may borrow that for other uses.

Just last week, I wrote about Google Flu Trends; so now, your searches could actually be used to plot the spread of disease.


Anyway, I think we’ve all used the ‘tubes to find medical information, probably for our own or other’s symptoms. What’s interesting to me here is the effect this has or will have on medical care.

I wonder if there’s a way to monitor how diagnoses have changed over time as patients come into consultations with pre-formed ideas of what they have, backed by the Internet.

Also interesting to me is whether cyberchondria is an international phenomenon. I think we Americans have a tendency to leap to the worst possible outcome, so I’m curious to know if this is as common in other countries.

So, enlighten me. Do you have cyberchondria? Does someone you know? Have you seen this affect a doctor’s diagnosis? Maybe you’re a doctor and can comment on your own experience with Internet diagnoses.

Find the comments; this stuff is interesting.




  1. Oh noes! Cancer you has it.

    I should create an LOLcat doctor; enter your symptoms and get the bad news in a funny caption, complete with cat picture.

    Sympathy cat has a sorry ur dyin.

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