The internet is turning us into a nation of hypochondriacs. But are we scaring ourselves into an early grave?
With self-diagnosis of the smallest symptoms at the tips of our fingers, it’s no wonder we sometimes jump to conclusions.
Add long working hours and everyday stress to the mix, and it’s no surprise that hypochondria is on the rise.
New research has shown that those who worry needlessly about getting a serious condition are more likely to develop one.
A Norwegian study found that people who worried too much were 73 per cent more likely to develop heart disease.
Dr Clare Morrison, GP at online doctor and pharmacy MedExpress, says she’s seen a rise in the number of hypochondriacs coming to her surgery.
‘The average patient sees their doctor over four times a year, putting huge pressure on the service,’ she says. ‘One reason for this is that patients read about their symptoms online and worry themselves silly.’
Take Dr Morrison’s quiz to see if you’re one of them…
1 How often do you think about your health?
a) Never. Why worry?
b) Only when illness stops me from being active or enjoying life.
c) Whenever something’s not quite right, such as a headache or feeling tired.
d) I think about my health constantly, to the exclusion of anything else.
2 Do you monitor any aspect of your health?
a) No, I wouldn’t have the slightest idea what to look for.
b) If I had something wrong I’d follow the doctor’s advice about keeping an eye on things if I remembered.
c) I regularly check my weight, blood pressure and pulse. It’s important to look out for problems.
d) I check everything I can constantly, then worry if anything changes, as it must mean I’m seriously ill.
3 What do you do if you notice a skin blemish?
a) I wouldn’t notice it. I never look for that sort of thing.
b) I’d only worry if it was changing and looked different from other blemishes.
c) I’d worry until I’d had it checked at the next convenient opportunity.
d) I’d be convinced it was skin cancer and would be frantic with worry.
4 What health products do you carry in your handbag?
a) Lip balm and cough sweets.
b) Sunscreen and ibuprofen.
c) Ibuprofen, paracetamol, itch cream and antacids.
d) A first-aid kit, three types of painkiller, leftover antibiotics, antihistamines, throat spray, steroid cream, thrush cream, vitamins, minerals, acid-suppressants and an eye patch.
5 What would you do if you developed a cough?
a) Nothing wrong with that — just clearing the tubes!
b) If it went on for several weeks, I’d see the doctor.
c) I’d see the doctor within a week, as I’d probably need antibiotics.
d) A cough likely means lung cancer or asbestosis. I’d be terrified and would google the symptoms, making me worry even more.
6 Do you lose sleep through worrying about your health?
a) Never. After a bottle of wine, nothing would keep me awake anyway!
b) Very rarely, and only if I’m in pain or being sick.
c) Sometimes, if I’m not feeling quite right or off my food.
d) Regularly. I frequently lie awake thinking I have something badly wrong with me.
7 Do you look your symptoms up online?
a) No, of course not. You’d read all sorts of rubbish.
b) I might occasionally, but I’m aware it could be misleading.
c) Quite often, and sometimes I read too much into it.
d) All the time, and it usually makes me think I have a serious disease that will shorten my life.
8 How often do you visit the doctor?
a) I don’t think I actually have a doctor.
b) Less than twice a year.
c) About four or five times a year, whenever I’m ill.
d) Every week or two. If I can’t get an appointment soon enough, I end up going to A&E.
9 Your friend is a doctor or a nurse. How likely are you to ask them for health advice?
a) I wouldn’t dream of it.
b) I might mention a serious health problem, if they asked how I was.
c) I’d give them a call if I was really ill and I couldn’t get an appointment for a few days.
d) I’ve phoned or texted them more than 20 times in the past year.
10 Your doctor gives you some blood results. How do you respond?
a) I don’t really listen. I’m still alive, aren’t I?
b) I get the message that I’m not dying and let the doctor worry about the details.
c) I make a note of what he says, and file a copy of the results at home.
d) I make detailed notes and if anything isn’t exactly average, I then imagine that it is wildly abnormal. If they are all normal, I assume that I received someone else’s results by mistake.
Edited by Phoebe Jackson-Edwards
You are so laid-back about your health, you’re horizontal. That’s OK as long as you remain well, but if you’re not careful you may end up with problems as you get older. Try to look after yourself a little more. Eat healthily, take some exercise and don’t ignore symptoms if they are very persistent.
Your attitude to health is realistic and balanced. You see a doctor when you need to, but try to manage your problems yourself when you can. I wish all my patients were like you!
You’re a bit of a worrier when it comes to health. Try to relax more and don’t over-medicate. Most of the problems I see as a GP will get better without treatment. Conversely some problems won’t be improved by treatment anyway — be grateful for your health and live life to the full.
You are a hypochondriac! There is no doubt that health anxiety can be a serious condition, blighting the lives of those who suffer from it and causing severe anguish and suffering. Keep yourself physically busy, and stop googling!