14

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Are You Suffering From "Cyberchondria"?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created October 25, 2011 at 12:39 AM

I recently read an article about "Cyberchondria" (internet-fueled self misdiagnosis of an illness or disease) and couldn't help but wonder about some of the declarations of "leaky gut", "leptin resistance", and "short telomeres" that I've seen here and on other sites.

I absolutely understand that there are people out there with legitimate medical conditions, and many of them share on this and other sites, but I am referring to those who simply read a few articles, do a couple Google searches, and get the idea that their occasional upset stomach means they have IBS, their post-workout fatigue is "adrenal fatigue", etc.

It is well known that we humans are predisposed to the "confirmation bias" (a tendency to favor information that confirms preconceptions or hypotheses regardless of whether the information is true) and the internet could be the ultimate enabler of this tendency.

Full Disclosure: I just read Taleb's "The Black Swan", so I am in a particularly skeptical mood and may in fact be guilty of the confirmation bias myself in looking for reasons to confirm my new-found skepticism.

0a0c8c37d3a56738dc017e4ff09f21ee

(480)

on October 25, 2011
at 07:27 PM

I'm serious. I just got back from the doctor yesterday, and sure enough.

6120c989fd5b69f42a0834b69b87955b

(24553)

on October 25, 2011
at 07:14 PM

I agree with you FED, fear can cause all sorts of hysteria including hypochondria. My dad told me about his 2nd year in medical school when most of the students succumbed to thinking they had a number of the illnesses they were studying, which makes sense to me when you are up to your eyeballs in pathology. And people who are pathology focused are going to hypochondriacs no matter what the setting, the internet included. If someone is wellness focused I think they bring less fear to the equation, and won't want to expend more energy self-diagnosing than is necessary to feel better.

742ff8ba4ff55e84593ede14ac1c3cab

(3536)

on October 25, 2011
at 03:59 PM

I just googled "cyberchondira" and all symptoms point to it. Am I going to die? Seriously though, most of my "diseases" are self diagnosed through google and anecdotal reports from other people with similar symptoms.

F1b39d4f620876330312f4925bd51900

(4090)

on October 25, 2011
at 03:58 PM

Self-diagnosis & treatment trials based on it, is at least something. Doctors have offered me nothing but a bill.

4ec0fe4b4aab327f7efa2dfb06b032ff

(5145)

on October 25, 2011
at 03:41 PM

Interesting comment, FED, and interesting that the health care industry is responding to this shift by raising prices and lowering quality of care.

2870a69b9c0c0a19a919e54cb3a62137

(1520)

on October 25, 2011
at 12:45 PM

Those "1%" cases are much rarer than those who went paleo to fix the very problems they possibly had to self-diagnose and may still be dealing with. You're much more likely to hear from people who have problems. Those in perfect health hardly have reason to waste time on that.

Medium avatar

(19479)

on October 25, 2011
at 11:54 AM

I definitely think that doctors have lost some of their "information advantage", just like car salesman, realtors, etc. In the past, a vast informational asymmetry put them in an position of power that they are likely mourning as we have access to a vast repository of heretofore esoteric knowledge. But as humans, we aren't very good at assessing probabilities, and, just like we fear a the primordial threat of being eaten (a shark for ex.) more than the real threat of driving to work, we are likely to overestimate our chances of developing illnesses that so easily capture our imagination.

Medium avatar

(19479)

on October 25, 2011
at 11:48 AM

Great response! Also, I hope your mitochondria are doing well :)

Medium avatar

(19479)

on October 25, 2011
at 01:28 AM

Love the last line ("Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they are not out to get you!") and you're right, diabetes, heart disease, inflammation (all part of the same process) ARE epidemic. I guess I was referring more to the people who work out, eat Paleo, take supplements, and are probably in the upper 1% in terms of health who still diagnose themselves with all sorts of maladies.

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7 Answers

10
3846a3b61bc9051e4baebdef62e58c52

(18635)

on October 25, 2011
at 01:11 AM

On the one hand you have a bit of a point. On the other hand I sincerely believe that you would be hard pressed to find ANYONE who has been eating a SAD diet for more than a couple decades without at least one of the aforementioned disorders to one degree or another.

So yes there is such a thing as being "cybercondria", but in the context of things like "leaky gut", systemic inflammation, and so forth they are at EPIDEMIC levels. So just because your paranoid doesn't mean they are not out to get you!

2870a69b9c0c0a19a919e54cb3a62137

(1520)

on October 25, 2011
at 12:45 PM

Those "1%" cases are much rarer than those who went paleo to fix the very problems they possibly had to self-diagnose and may still be dealing with. You're much more likely to hear from people who have problems. Those in perfect health hardly have reason to waste time on that.

Medium avatar

(19479)

on October 25, 2011
at 01:28 AM

Love the last line ("Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they are not out to get you!") and you're right, diabetes, heart disease, inflammation (all part of the same process) ARE epidemic. I guess I was referring more to the people who work out, eat Paleo, take supplements, and are probably in the upper 1% in terms of health who still diagnose themselves with all sorts of maladies.

7
Fa9f340eddbad9a544184c688fa4dcdd

(6433)

on October 25, 2011
at 02:29 AM

Hmm, I guess it's a measure of my cyberchondria that my first thought upon reading the title was that modern technology was somehow responsible for mitochondrial dysfunction.

I agree that the SAD is not conducive to health, hence the epidemic levels of IBS etc, but at the same time the overall standard western lifestyle is not conducive to meeting our needs in so many other spheres; emotional/social, spiritual, pace of life etc. In this context illness often seems to be the only time that we "have permission" to take care of ourselves.

Depression, anxiety and similar problems can often manifest as fatigue, altered sleep/appetite or stomach upsets. These are generic symptoms that fit the most common diagnoses and could be easily misidentified, especially if we are out of touch with our emotional state. Also, although this has lessened, there is still social stigma to problems which aren't "just" physical. At the same time, this could even be a coping mechanism as it is far easier to start a supplement regimen than to confront big and scary life issues.

Equally, modern medicine has a pretty poor record of taking nagging (apparently minor) chronic complaints seriously - is it really suprising if people want a better answer than 'take these pills for the rest of your life, they won't cure you, and the side effects may even be worse than the initial problem, but it's the best we have at the moment'? What sets apart eg a leptin reset is the promise of a cure, which (in some cases) happens to correlate to everything people generally want to improve in their lives, from weight lost to more energy and better focus. So people perhaps start to wish that they were leptin resistant, just because if they were to do a leptin reset all areas of their life would simultaneously improve.

Finally, our perception of what "normal" energy levels are is probably quite distorted. Life all on its own can be stressful and tiring, but just because we're not acting as if we're in an energy drink commercial all day long doesn't mean that something is wrong with us. In other ways we live such comfortable lives and we are used to meeting (or even exceeding) our body's physical needs, so whilst in another era we health hacking types might have shrugged off chronic issues, nowadays they are like the proverbial turd in our 4 star, olympic size swimming pool, and we have the perfect time-sucking tool at our disposal (the internet) to fall down the rabbit hole of obsessively trying to fix it.

Medium avatar

(19479)

on October 25, 2011
at 11:48 AM

Great response! Also, I hope your mitochondria are doing well :)

5
6120c989fd5b69f42a0834b69b87955b

(24553)

on October 25, 2011
at 05:45 AM

Call me cynical if you will, but this sounds like a term manufactured by doctors not interested in dealing with patients who are taking responsibility for their own health. I've gotten a pretty swift smack down when I've voiced particular health concerns, especially if I walk into the doctors office with a pretty good idea that I've been dealing with a malady, and can name it. Every...single...time...I've been right. I don't see why one needs a degree to work through a symptoms list, I can read as well as my doctor.

As far as folks here over-worrying, sure, if you stick with paleo for a long time chances are a lot of health issues will be resolved, and you probably shouldn't worry much. However, a lot of us come here because we're in terrible shape inside and out have some serious work to do.

The specific examples of "leaky gut" and "leptin resistance" are pretty ubiquitous, I think it would be the odd person who eats whatever is cheap and participates in our 24/7 society who doesn't suffer from either or both of those.

Medium avatar

(19479)

on October 25, 2011
at 11:54 AM

I definitely think that doctors have lost some of their "information advantage", just like car salesman, realtors, etc. In the past, a vast informational asymmetry put them in an position of power that they are likely mourning as we have access to a vast repository of heretofore esoteric knowledge. But as humans, we aren't very good at assessing probabilities, and, just like we fear a the primordial threat of being eaten (a shark for ex.) more than the real threat of driving to work, we are likely to overestimate our chances of developing illnesses that so easily capture our imagination.

F1b39d4f620876330312f4925bd51900

(4090)

on October 25, 2011
at 03:58 PM

Self-diagnosis & treatment trials based on it, is at least something. Doctors have offered me nothing but a bill.

4ec0fe4b4aab327f7efa2dfb06b032ff

(5145)

on October 25, 2011
at 03:41 PM

Interesting comment, FED, and interesting that the health care industry is responding to this shift by raising prices and lowering quality of care.

6120c989fd5b69f42a0834b69b87955b

(24553)

on October 25, 2011
at 07:14 PM

I agree with you FED, fear can cause all sorts of hysteria including hypochondria. My dad told me about his 2nd year in medical school when most of the students succumbed to thinking they had a number of the illnesses they were studying, which makes sense to me when you are up to your eyeballs in pathology. And people who are pathology focused are going to hypochondriacs no matter what the setting, the internet included. If someone is wellness focused I think they bring less fear to the equation, and won't want to expend more energy self-diagnosing than is necessary to feel better.

5
0a0c8c37d3a56738dc017e4ff09f21ee

(480)

on October 25, 2011
at 03:25 AM

No. I actually have all the diseases, conditions, and symptoms I think I do.

...and they are plentiful.

0a0c8c37d3a56738dc017e4ff09f21ee

(480)

on October 25, 2011
at 07:27 PM

I'm serious. I just got back from the doctor yesterday, and sure enough.

2
De65560c40ddb3f27764307ffa504240

on October 25, 2011
at 04:39 AM

I advocate skepticism as a healthy approach to any endeavor. It's a (probably unavoidable) tendency of our species to decide what we believe and then try to force incoming data into a preformed mold. I think that happens as much in the paleo community as in any other, and I imagine there's more WebMD-mining than is entirely necessary.

I obviously suspect that the SAD is a godawful way to treat oneself or I wouldn't be here, but the body is such a fantastically complex and ill-understood system that I'm pretty sure the best we can do is hedge our percentages. I.e., we're probably getting a decent margin - maybe a really significant one - by eating well, getting regular exercise, and avoiding certain common SAD elements, but if one starts thinking of dietary factors as anything other than a way to fudge the percentages some indeterminate amount, then one flirts with illusions of control that don't bear out in the actual cosmos we inhabit.

2
Da3d4a6835c0f5256b2ef829b3ba3393

on October 25, 2011
at 12:44 AM

I'm not, but this is a good topic and one we should all be mindful of. A few years ago, I had to admit that I convinced myself that I had a problem with my parathyroid and I was all keyed up to.... you guessed it..... my internet searching.

Anyway, good topic.

0
C2450eb7fa11b37473599caf93b461ef

on October 25, 2011
at 02:51 PM

I think there's probably a valid point there, but only to a certain minor extent. That being said, an article decrying "cyberchondria" is really just the same lame excuse for health journalism as the "diet du jour" and frantic reports based on a study that was just published that had 7 study participants, or a media blitz over information from a meta-study that we've all heard before. Reporters have deadlines to meet and space to fill, especially in this cyber-24-hour-news-cycle world we live in, so they have to come up with something to write about.

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