Dr Google is fuelling hypochondria, warn experts  |  Photo Credit: Thinkstock
New Delhi: Analysis of Google data has found that web searches for serious health conditions have reached all-time high over the last three years in the UK. According to the research, the search volumes for terms such as ‘how to know chest pains are serious’ have risen by 8,781 per cent from 2015 to 2018 in the UK, with experts warning that Dr Google may be fuelling hypochondria, also known health anxiety.
The research also found that searches for keywords such as ‘sciatica’, ‘acne’ and ‘IBS’ plus ‘treatment’ are now searched more than 100,000 times on average every year since 2015. Other keywords like ‘stomach ache’ and ‘aching legs’ were also found to top online searches, with an average of 115,800 and 151,075 searches yearly since 2015. ‘GP near me’ was googled 500,000 times between January and August alone this year.
Hannah Sims, product manager for Perkbox Medical, which commissioned the research, said: “The NHS has been looking after the health of the nation for 70 years now. It’s a wonderful system, but it isn’t without its challenges, particularly in primary care.”
“Currently, over one million people a week in the UK struggle to get themselves seen by a doctor when they need it. GP surgeries tend to only be open during the usual working hours and are stretched to fit everyone in, pushing appointment waiting times to around two weeks.”
The research also showed that the number of Brits self-diagnosing themselves using Google is on the rise. ‘How to know if chest pains are serious?’, was among the most searched terms with 14,210 average searches from January to August this year. As per the report, terms such as ‘how to get rid of back pain?’ received 12,800 average searches in the same period, and ‘how to get rid of stomach pain?’ garnered some 18,200 average searches.
“Many of these symptoms account for key causes of absenteeism at work, which costs the UK economy £77billion per year,” Sim added.
What is hypochondria? How to know if you have health anxiety
Hypochondria, also called health anxiety, is a condition in which a person spends so much time worrying about having a serious illness, despite medical tests never finding anything wrong. According to the NHS, you may have health anxiety if you have the following symptoms:
- Constantly worrying about your health
- Frequently checking your body for signs of illness, such as lumps, tingling or pain
- Always asking people for reassurance that you’re not ill
- Worrying that your doctor or medical tests may have missed something
- Obsessively looking at health information on the internet or in the media
- Avoiding anything to do with serious illness, such as medical TV programmes
- Acting as if you were ill (for example, avoiding physical activities)
However, anxiety itself can cause symptoms such as headaches or a racing heartbeat, and you may mistake these for signs of illness. The exact causes of health anxiety are not known, but researchers believe that certain factors – such as beliefs, family, past experience – may play a role.