'Dr Google' fuelling anxieties over health

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Image: Getty Images
Image: Getty Images

Academics from Imperial College London and King's College London have found that up to one in five people attending medical clinics have abnormal health anxiety, which is made worse by the process of researching symptoms online.

Many may link their symptoms to previous medical problems, such as heart attacks, and are convinced they are at risk again.

Professor Peter Tyrer said that health anxiety overlaps with hypochondria, and explained that the condition is increasing in frequency due to "cyber-chondria" or the ability to access health information on the Internet.

"Patients with high health anxiety excessively worry about their health but most do not recognise its underlying cause," he said in a statement. "The condition is often triggered by some event, and the combination of greater personal vulnerability, enhanced by increased public awareness of illness, reinforces the anxiety. With the ready availability of the Internet, people feel it's their responsibility to look after their health, and indeed, public health experts encourage this."

Accordingly, Professor Tyrer and his colleagues have found success in treating the issue with a modified form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Health Anxiety (CBT-HA).

They tracked 444 patients with severe health anxiet and gave them four 10-hour sessions of CBT-HA, with the results showing that participants found the process greatly beneficial.

"CBT-HA allows therapists with no previous experience to be trained relatively easily. It, therefore, has the potential to be used widely in general hospital settings under appropriate supervision," explained Professor Tyrer. "We recommend that further work is needed in research to identify and treat the growing problem of health anxiety in hospitals."

The full study has been published in the NIHR Journals Library.

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