Online hypochondriacs make themselves crazy with self-diagnosis

With warnings about flu and the other general ailments we all get during the depressing January month, it’s no surprise that research has shown that the number of people scouring the internet for health advice will grow.

However, in our haste to self diagnose many of us will fail to check where the information comes from according to the researchers at the London School of Economics (LSE), which were commissioned by Bupa to look into this trend.

GPs also warn that self diagnosis sites are “leading to a nation of hypochondriacs”.  

The research said one key factor in the growth of health websites is down to the rise  of smartphones and tablet computers, which mean more health information is available online.

Of the 12,000 people questioned internationally, 81 percent searched for advice about health, medicines or medical conditions.

Russians were found to be the most curious, searching for health advice the most on the internet, followed by China, India, Mexico and Brazil. The French search for online health information the least, according to the survey’s findings.

It also found that 68 percent look for information about specific medicines and nearly 40 percent use it to look for other patients’ experiences of a condition. Over in blighty 60 percent of Brits look for information about medicines and more than half of them, use the information to self diagnose.

According to a family GP, the self diagnosis is leading to a nation of hypochondriacs.  

“There are so many sites out on the internet proffering medical advice. However, they aren’t helpful,” he told TechEye.

“Not only is information on some of these incorrect but it also gives the worse diagnosis leading to a new bout of hypochondriacs. If people are very worried about their health then they should visit a doctor who will be able to carry out tests and give the right information. If they must look at websites to give information then NHS Direct is probably the best option – although even that one can often frighten people.”

We did a little bit of medical research to see if our headache was anything to be worried about. Whilst many sites said it was a migraine, one or two got our hearts pumping far too quickly – apparently a fast beating heart means you have a serious heart defect according to one site – telling us we had a tumour. The diagnosis wasn’t much more positive and one site even told us it could get us some special miracle drugs. All it needed was a credit card number.

This is something the British Medical Association warns against. A spokesman for the organisation told TechEye:  “The internet can be a fantastic source of health information, but does need to be used very selectively.  

“Sites like Best Health and NHS Choices are reliable, whereas people should be extremely sceptical about any sites that promise miracle cures or demand payment.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “Over the past year NHS Choices has been logged onto more than 100 millions times, and recently topped a Which? investigation into medical websites. Which? confirmed the site ‘excelled for its breadth of information’ and that the site contained  medically robust information’.

“In addition, Nottingham University earlier this year said patients should be signposted to trusted NHS websites such as NHS Choices.”