Cyberchondria

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Cyberchondria (or cyberchondriasis) refers to the unfounded escalation of concerns about common symptomology based on review of search results and literature online.[1][2] Articles in popular media position cyberchondria anywhere from temporary neurotic excess to adjunct hypochondria. Cyberchondria is a growing concern among many healthcare practitioners as patients can now research any and all symptoms of a rare disease, illness or condition, and manifest a state of medical anxiety.

Contents

Derivation and use

The term "cyberchondria" is a portmanteau neologism derived from the terms cyber- and hypochondria. (The term "-chondria" derives from Greek and literally means "cartilage" or "breast bone.") Researchers at Harris Interactive clarified the etymology of cyberchondria, and state in studies and interviews that the term is not necessarily intended to be pejorative.[3] [4]

A review in the British Medical Journal publication "Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry" from 2003[5] says cyberchondria was used in 2001 in an article in the United Kingdom newspaper The Independent[6] to describe "the excessive use of internet health sites to fuel health anxiety." The BBC also used cyberchondria in April, 2001.[7] The BMJ review also cites the 1997 book from Elaine Showalter, who writes the internet is a new way to spread "pathogenic ideas" like Gulf War syndrome and chronic fatigue syndrome.[8] Patients with cyberchondria and patients of general hypochondriasis often are convinced they have disorders "with common or ambiguous symptoms."[9][10]

Cyberchondriac was a word of the year in 2008 for the Webster's New World Dictionary. Webster's shows a list of uses for cyberchondriac on publications and the internet.[11]

Studies

The first systematic study of cyberchondria, reported in November 2008, was performed by Microsoft researchers Ryen White and Eric Horvitz, who conducted a large-scale study that included several phases of analysis.[9] The New York Times covered the study.[12] White and Horvitz defined cyberchondria as the “unfounded escalation of concerns about common symptomatology, based on the review of search results and literature on the Web.” They analyzed a representative crawl of the web for co-occurrences of symptoms with diseases in web content as well as the content returned as search results from queries on symptoms and found surprisingly high rates of linkage of rare, concerning diseases (e.g., brain tumor) to common symptoms (e.g., headache). They also analyzed anonymized large-scale logs of queries to all of the popular search engines and noted the commonality of escalations of queries from common complaints to queries on concerning diseases. They characterized the nature of escalations within a specific session and also found that potentially disruptive querying about disorders (arrived at via a search escalation) could continue in other sessions over days, weeks, and months, and that the queries could disrupt non-medical search activities. Finally, the researchers did a survey of over 500 people that confirmed the prevalence of web-induced medical anxieties and that probed several aspects of the phenomenon. The survey noted that a significant portion of subjects considered the ranking of a list of results on a medical query as somehow linked to the likelihood of relevant disorders. The researchers highlight the difference between the information provided by standard approaches to “relevance” used by search engines in ranking results and answers to medical questions, especially when searchers are looking for likelihoods of different explanations. They point out the potential importance of findings drawn from the psychology of judgment in their work. In particular, they point out that previously studied "biases of judgment" play a role in cyberchondria.[13] The researchers highlighted the potential biases of availability (the recency and density of exposure of someone to events raises the assessed likelihood of the events) and base-rate neglect (people often do not properly consider the low prior probability of events in assessing the likelihood of events when they review evidence in support of the event) as influencing both search engines and then people searching the web. Confirmation bias, a tendency for people to confirm their preconceptions or hypotheses, may also contribute to cyberchondria.

In a paper published in the proceedings of the 2009 Symposium of the American Medical Informatics Association,[2] White and Horvitz present further findings from their 500-person survey on peoples’ experiences with the online investigation of medical concerns and self diagnosis. They found that overall, people report to having a low level of health anxiety, but that Web-based escalation of concerns occurs frequently for around one in five people. Two in five people report that interactions with the Web increases medical anxiety and approximately half of people report that it reduces anxiety. Traits such as a person’s general anxiety level and predispositions to anxiety may contribute to the levels of medical anxiety experienced and to the likelihood of Web-induced medical escalation. White and Horvitz suggest that Web content providers be cognizant of their potential to heighten medical anxiety and consider the ramifications of publishing alarming medical information, emphasize the importance of Web content in facilitating patient-physician interaction, and recommend periodic surveys and analysis with different cohorts to track changes in health-seeking experiences over time.

Medical websites

In 2002 the Sydney Morning Herald wrote "a visit to an Internet "clinic" will probably diagnose drowsiness as chronic fatigue, anal itch as bowel cancer and a headache as a tumour."[14] Many reputable medical organizations maintain websites that may include brief overviews of various conditions for individuals with a general curiosity, or more detailed information to aid the understanding of people who have been properly diagnosed.[5] Often listing diagnoses without regard to incidence, prevalence, or relevant risk factors, websites may lead users to suspect rather rare and unlikely diseases as the source of their complaints. Since many benign conditions share symptoms with more serious ailments and are listed side-by-side, users without proper medical consultation may assume the worst rather than the likely diagnosis. Web-diagnosis can cause a great deal of distress and anxiety in users who believe themselves to have incurable and serious illnesses.[9]

Greg Lamberty writes about "somatization" or "the tendency to experience and communicate somatic distress in response to psychosocial stress and to seek medical help for it"[15] in Understanding Somatization in the Practice of Neuropsychology [16] Lamberty criticizes some disease activist organizations that are on-line, like the National Fibromyalgia Association and the Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Association, that they encourage somatization with "a clear bias that validates suffering by applying a medical label to the constellation of symptoms experienced."

Patients who go against medical advice or refuse to accept a professional diagnosis while quoting questionable web sources have become more common and can be a frustrating obstacle to physicians trying to provide a professional standard of care. When in doubt, patients should attempt to get a second opinion before turning to web-based sources. Self diagnosis should not be used as a substitute for a professional medical consultation.

In addition to a lack of context, medical websites may also be deliberately biased to support a particular medical philosophy or therapy.

Opening lines of communication

Some medical practitioners are open to a patient's personal research, as this can open lines of communication between doctors and patients, and prove valuable in eliciting more complete or pertinent information from the patient about their present condition.

Other doctors express concern about patients who self-diagnose on the basis of information obtained from the internet when the patient demonstrates an incomplete or distorted understanding of other diagnostic possibilities and medical likelihoods. A patient who exaggerates one set of symptoms in support of their self-diagnosis while minimizing or suppressing contrary symptoms can impair rather than enhance a doctor's ability to reach a correct diagnosis. [7]

See also

References

  1. Ryen White; Eric Horvitz (2009). "Cyberchondria: Studies of the escalation of medical concerns in Web search". ACM Transactions on Information Systems 27 (4). doi:10.1145/1629096.1629101. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 White, Ryen W.; Horvitz, Eric (2009). "Experiences with Web Search on Medical Concerns and Self Diagnosis". Proc Annual Symposium of the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA 2009). http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/people/ryenw/papers/WhiteAMIA2009.pdf. 
  3. "The Future Use of the Internet in 4 Countries in Relation to Prescriptions,Physician Communication and Health Information". Harris Interactive. 2002-06-20. http://www.harrisinteractive.com/news/newsletters/healthnews/HI_HealthCareNews2002Vol2_Iss13.pdf. Retrieved 2006-12-11. 
  4. Ackerman, Kate (2005-08-04). "Survey Gauges Number of Cyberchondriacs in the U.S.". California HealthCare Foundation. http://www.ihealthbeat.org/articles/2005/8/4/Survey-Gauges-Number-of-Cyberchondriacs-in-the-US.aspx?a=1. Retrieved 2006-12-11. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 J Stone; M Sharpe (2003). "Internet resources for psychiatry and neuropsychiatry". Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry. http://jnnp.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/74/1/10. 
  6. P. Vallely, Independent "Are You a Cyberchondriac?" April 18, 2001
  7. 7.0 7.1 "'Cyberchondria' hits web users". BBC News. 2001-04-13. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/1274438.stm. Retrieved 2006-12-11. 
  8. Showalter, Elaine. Hystories: hysterical epidemics and modern media. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Ryen White; Eric Horvitz (2008). "Cyberchondria: Studies of the Escalation of Medical Concerns in Web Search" (Technical Report (MSR-TR-2008-178)). Microsoft Research. ftp://ftp.research.microsoft.com/pub/tr/TR-2008-178.pdf. Retrieved 2008-11-26. 
  10. BARSKY, A.J. AND KLERMAN, G.L. (1983). Overview: hypochondriasis, bodily complaints, and somatic styles. American Journal of Psychiatry, 140: 273-283
  11. Webster's 2008 words of the year
  12. Microsoft Examines Causes of ‘Cyberchondria’ New York Times "Microsoft Examines Causes of 'Cyberchondria'
  13. Amos Tversky; Daniel Kahneman (1974). "Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases". Science. pp. 185, 1124-1131. http://psiexp.ss.uci.edu/research/teaching/Tversky_Kahneman_1974.pdf. Retrieved 2008-11-26. 
  14. Natasha Wallace, "Doctor in the Mouse" Sydney Herald September 7, 2002
  15. Lipowski ZJ (1988). "Somatization: the concept and its clinical application". Am J Psychiatry 145 (11): 1358–68. PMID 3056044. 
  16. Greg J. Lamberty, Understanding Somatization in the Practice of Neuropsychology

External links

cs:Kyberchondrie fr:Cybercondrie he:סייברכונדריה sk:Kyberchondria

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