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Online health: Click or Curse?

The internet has given us unprecedented access to health information. But is that a good thing? David Hughes reports

I’m lucky to have finished this article. I mean, considering I have Yellow Fever. The internet alerted me, when I googled in my symptoms of muscle soreness and headache.

They’ve worn off, but the website warns that in Stage Two of the disease, “fever and other symptoms go away.” So there we are. I’m putting my affairs in order, prior to heart, liver and kidney problems.


While the internet can be a valuable source of information about our health, it has also enabled countless people to worry about diseases they didn’t know existed a few years ago. While most people use the internet – in health terms – to 46 help make informed decisions, those prone to hypochondria (not me, obviously) are more likely to find it a source of worry, a phenomenon popularly known as cyberchondria.

The pre-digital condition hypochondria is defined as being anxious about an imagined illness, with exaggerations of symptoms. It can last up to six months, and affects men and women equally.

Arthur Barsky MD, of Harvard Medical School, author of Worried Sick: Our Troubled Quest for Wellness says sufferers are “absolutely not fakers or malingerers. They really feel the distress they’re talking about. It’s just that their feelings don’t have an obvious medical basis.”

To such people, the internet can be a source of potential worry. “A lot of the stuff on the internet, especially on health-related bullet boards, is pure impression and anecdote, and they don’t have a lot of scientific validity,” says Barsky – on one of the reputable sites, WebMD.

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What do you thinnk to online health information? It is good or bad?

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