Cyberchondriacs: The Internet’s Medicalization Of Hypochondriacs

3498 words - 14 pages

With the growing influx of information available on the Internet, more people now decide when they can access different variations of information, and what content they choose to research. One of the critical and often life-saving practices available on the Internet is the extensive reach of medical knowledge. Internet sites such as Web MD offer lists of symptoms and complications leading to an immediate response to check a website the instant one feels under the weather or wishes to know how to treat an ailment. Due to the ambivalent and extensive rhetoric of medical websites, people now have the ability to self diagnose themselves, and most often the diagnose is for an illness they do not have, creating paranoia and a new age of hypochondriacs. In addition, the media may often prime and make aware rare and horrifying illnesses, thus aiding in the paranoia and distrustful nature of hypochondriacs. Therefore, this paper will argue the accessibility and widespread exigence and rhetoric of Internet medical websites and forums creates the medicalization of a new type of hypochondria defined as a cyberchondria, which has further led to a rise in paranoia, anxiety, and trust in inaccurate Internet sources.
To understand the nature of the Internet medical rhetoric that prompts and creates stress on those who misdiagnose themselves, it thus becomes critical to look at the origins of hypochondria. Originally “hypochondrium” can be traced back to Hippocrates, and “had an anatomical emphasis- indicating the area under (hypo) the cartilage of the ribs (chondros) and referred to digestive disorders of the liver, spleen, and gallbladder” (Groopman, 2003, p.2). The actual word “hypochondria” in the seventeenth century described a melancholic disorder when one had digestive and vague pain. Doctors would use leeches to treat the disorder, and this diagnosis “developed a certain cultural, chic” (Groopman, 2003, p.2). During the nineteenth century, hypochrondria became the illness it is today, in that the disease is defined through an
“excessive fear of illness” (Groopman, 2003, p.2). Hypochondria became prominent and may be attributed to the rise at the time of modern medicine, allowing for the discovery and categorization of new and rare diseases.
In addition to the rise of modern medicine creating a growing number of people self-diagnosing, the Internet as it has developed and grown has helped attribute to people’s concerns. The number of people using the Internet to search for medical concerns has increased significantly over the years. In as early as 1999, “31 percent of respondents under the age of 60 had sought health information on the web” (as cited in Lewis, 2006, p. 524). Even at a time when the Internet was not as prominent, people have used the Web as a way of self-diagnosis. In a more recent analysis of people using the Internet for health material, “57 percent of respondents had consulted internet sources when looking for health information” (as...

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