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Surfing For Symptoms Online May Make You Feel Worse

By Paula Ebben, WBZ-TV
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BOSTON (CBS) – We’ve all done it once, or maybe twice. We log onto a website when we are sick or something doesn’t feel right to try and figure out our health problems on our own.

Now, some patients are over diagnosing themselves, and that’s become a diagnosis in its own right. It’s called “Cyberchondria.”

Lisa Lok is one of those people who can’t stop going online to look up various symptoms.

“I am hoping to find sense of relief, but usually the exact opposite thing happens. I am stressing myself, do I have this, do I have that?”

Cyberchondria is a growing trend in which a person spends hour after hour online reading health websites, self-diagnosing, and stressing out.

Lok recalled one time she went online after experiencing numbness in her arm. “I looked that up, and the first thing that shows up is heart attack,” she said.

Dr. Nitin Sethi, a neurologist, says patients often see their fear escalate and they often start to think the worst. “That’s the risk of using search engines.”

Lok has diagnosed herself with everything from heart disease to melanoma. But there has never been anything wrong with her, other than the anxiety she experiences 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,” added Lok.

J’Nelle Agee admits she does the same thing. She thinks surfing the web has made her sicker, especially when she finds other sites that validate the symptoms of the first site.

“You keep reading all this information because it’s not just from one person, it’s from various sources,” said Agee.

Self-diagnosing can work two ways, however. Some people downplay the seriousness of their situation and don’t get the real help they need.

Dr. David Rose explained, “The thing with the Internet is there’s just an enormous amount of information out there, and much if it is not reliable or accurate.”

The best medicine really comes down to balance according to Dr. Sethi. “I think the Internet is a great resource. I feel the benefits outweigh the perils. But nothing is better than a visit to your doctor.”

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