Cyberchonder: "Googling yourself sick"

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Googling yourself sick

A new phenomenon exists on the World Wide Web: the search for self-diagnosis, called "Cyberchonder". When there are signs of pain or physical symptoms, many people search the internet for possible causes. Many internet users enter a symptom of illness into the search engine and look for the supposedly corresponding illness. So back tension can quickly become a "serious cardiovascular disease" because many tend to choose the most serious disease. Subsequently, those affected subjectively feel physically much worse than before.

Many people underestimate their health

According to a study by Microsoft researchers, many people consider their physical condition to be much worse than it actually is. For many people, fear triggers additional symptoms that they actually did not feel before. As part of the long-term study, which examined specific health-related search query data from a total of 515 people, it emerged that the type and quantity of the results sought are directly related to the “exaggeration of one's own illness”. "Our study shows that Internet search engines have the potential to let medical concerns get out of hand in negative ways," the researchers conclude.

Fears are intensified

Many people unreflectively accept any information and are too quick to believe the results offered. In medical internet portals, it is often insufficiently indicated that the causes of certain symptoms can usually be found in fairly harmless tension or illnesses. Conventional medical portals in particular would only deal with psychosomatic causes to a limited extent. Internet users find out too quickly that their symptom can be a serious illness. The Microsoft researchers emphasize: “The Internet has the potential to drastically increase people's fears.” So anyone who has previously lived in constant fear of suffering from an incurable disease will certainly find web-based content that increases fear .

It should be emphasized that a definitive diagnosis cannot be made solely on the basis of a symptom. A large number of diseases have rather unspecific symptoms that manifest themselves in a variety of ways. The Microsoft researchers also emphasize this fact in their study: "This is extremely problematic because different diseases can often have the same symptoms."

Internet portals can never replace a doctor's visit!

It is important to take a critical look at the information offered on the Internet. A medical internet portal can never replace a visit to a doctor or alternative practitioner. The information should at most be used to research possible causes of complaints together with the doctor, for example. Those affected should be aware that a so-called self-diagnosis based on media content can exacerbate the alleged symptoms. (sb)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical professionals.


  • Ryen W. White, Eric Horvitz: Cyberchondria: Studies of the Escalation of Medical Concerns in Web Search; in MSR-TR-2008-177, November 2008,

Video: Cyberchondria


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