Trapped in a Web of their own

Trapped in a Web  of their own

It’s possibly one trend among Bangalore’s computer nerds about which not much is known. One may even call it a pitfall of the increasing accessibility of the Internet. 

Psychiatrists and counselling centres in the city are calling it Cyberchondria, a psychological illness where a person is excessively preoccupied with his/her health and is highly anxious about the possibility of having a disease after reading about it on the Internet. 

Being aware of and concerned about one’s own health is no doubt a good sign. But not when it degenerates into a nagging obsession, often leading to a variety of problems.

‘Health-related facts,’ ‘information about a disease,’ ‘facts about your body you never knew,’ are a few terms often found embedded as hyperlinks. However, not all information available on the Internet is exactly reliable.

Dr Mahesh Gowda, Director, Spandana Health Care, explained that it was usually those who were cautious about their health that were prone to the problem. 

“It begins with a person either trying to look up on the Internet for certain symptoms he has or the disease itself. It would gradually proceed to reading about people who experienced similar problems,” he added. 

The psychiatrist said that patients were often found reading about the side effects of medicines and later approaching doctors with a concern. “All they do is type the name of the drug prescribed and then search for its side effects. This creates doubts in their minds.”

Self-diagnosis, spending money on wasteful medical investigations and assumptions about the possibility of having a disease could thus lead to a spectrum of anxiety disorders, including phobias, hypochondriasis and depression, he said. 

Dr A Jagadish, chief psychiatrist at Abhay Hospital, said, “It is usually those with above average intelligence and attention sensitive hyperactivity disorder who come to us with Internet addiction problems. The disorder exists across various sections of society. There are also cases from affluent families and children of doctors having such problems,” he said. 

He explained the case of 27-year-old Bharat (name changed), who is currently being treated at the hospital. “He was very health conscious. However, it was the habit of reading about it on the Internet that landed him in trouble. He would read about various health related write-ups on the Net.”

Dr Jagadish said generally medication followed by Cognitive Behavioural Therapy helped treat the illness.

According to Dr Gowda, while the content posted on the Internet could be written by medical professionals themselves, there are also possibilities of laymen adding content on the Web.

“There is no screening of the content on the Internet. Any person can post information,” he said. 

It is an information overload and can also affect the doctor-patient relationship as there is no trust, Gowda said.

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