“Throbbing headache, one side of head”, I Google at 2am, already knowing full well I’ll ignore all rational diagnosis and jump straight to “brain tumour”. It’s fairly likely I’ll go on to cross reference my findings on various other medical websites (for me, getting a second opinion means checking NetDoctor and the NHS website), then lie awake in a debilitating state of anxiety while I plan how to tell my loved ones I’m dying.
Over the past couple of years I’ve diagnosed myself with my fair share of health problems. MS came first, then diabetes, chronic heart disease and of course, the dreaded tumour. For someone who barely scraped through Science GCSE, I’ve come to trust my own medical opinion far too much.
The whole thing has definitely been made worse by the internet, and it turns out I’m far from alone. Research from Benenden Health revealed that more than 100 million health-related Google searches have been made in the last 12 months. You might have to wait for an appointment with a doctor IRL, but Dr Google will be there around the clock, telling you everything and nothing about your symptoms – as well as very little about their realistic likelihood. Health anxiety caused by online symptom checking is estimated to cost the NHS up to £420million every year.
Once labelled ‘hypochondria’, and now otherwise described as the “silent epidemic”, health anxiety is a condition which consists of a preoccupation with developing a serious illness despite medical reassurance.
Sufferers often obsess over bodily functions like their heartbeat and physical discomfort like headaches. They might worry about a specific organ or become fixated on an illness they heard about in the news. Thoughts are horribly all-consuming. According to Professor David Veale, the onset of health anxiety usually occurs in adolescents or young adults, and the disorder is vastly more prominent in women.