Risks of online self-diagnosing: Cyberchondriacs

“Cyberchondriac” is a term pertaining to a person who seeks health-related information on the Internet.[1] These people tend to focus on the worst-case scenario and often search for the vaguest symptoms. Cyberchondriacs are at risk of obtaining unreliable information online that could lead to futile anxiety and stress. By doing so they aggravate their situation rather than curing the ailment. For example, a grave, life-threatening diagnosis of cardiac arrhythmia can result from a simple search for heart palpitations, which may just be the result of stress or high caffeine intake. 

Some credible medical websites provide impeccable information, but users may misinterpret or wrongly apply the information to their condition. Other sites that claim to provide beneficial treatment and medical solutions for diseases (with no sound research) encourage patients to self-diagnose and may exploit them for monetary gain. 

Given the problem of medicines being sold without prescriptions over the web,[2] cyberchondriacs can create immense danger to their health by self-diagnosing serious diseases and initiating their own treatment based on unreliable information found online. A cyberchondriac needs to resist the compulsion to self-diagnose, and should seek assurance from doctors and friends rather than asking Dr Google. 
—Shahzad Anwar
—Sidra Khan
Third-year medical students
Dow University of Health, Pakistan


1.    Smith PK, Fox AT, Davies P, et al. Cyberchondriacs. Int J Adolesc Med Health 2006;18:209-213. 
2.    Forman RF, Woody GE, McLellan T, et al. The availability of web sites offering to sell opioid medications without prescriptions. Am J Psychiatry 2006;163:1233-1238.

Shahzad Anwar,, Sidra Khan,. Risks of online self-diagnosing: Cyberchondriacs. BCMJ, Vol. 55, No. 2, March, 2013, Page(s) 72 - Letters.

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