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Anxiety over health 'caused by cyber-chondria'

From BBC - September 6, 2017

Worrying excessively about health, and going for unnecessary appointments and tests, is a growing problem - fuelled by looking up symptoms on the internet, researchers say.

Health anxiety can also be caused by previous health scares and could affect one in five hospital out-patients.

UK researchers said psychotherapy could reduce anxiety and should be on offer in all hospitals.

They are calling for official health anxiety guidelines to be drawn up.

A team including researchers from Imperial College London and King's College London said the symptoms of health anxiety were often mistaken for those of a physical illness and included chest pains and headaches that did not go away.

Even when a doctor offered reassurance that there was no underlying physical reason for their symptoms, patients continued to worry and look for a diagnosis.

And this led to expensive and unnecessary medical appointments and investigations, as well as time off work, they said.

Prof Peter Tyrer, emeritus professor in community psychiatry at Imperial College London, said the internet had a part to play.

"We suspect that [health anxiety] is increasing in frequency because of what is now called 'cyber-chondria'.

"This is because people now go to their GPs with a whole list of things they have looked up on the internet, and the poor GP, five minutes into the consultation, has four pages of reading to do," he said.

"Dr Google is very informative, but he does not put things in the right proportion."

Prof Tyrer said patients did not tend to pay attention to the word "rare" if they thought they had a disease.

The researchers, mostly mental health experts, said it was important to identify people with health anxiety and offer them treatment so their overall wellbeing improved.

They estimate that the problem could be costing the NHS at least 420m a year.

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