Have you met someone who spends about Rs12,000 a month on health check-ups only to be sure that he doesn’t have any illnesses? A 27-year-old working professional from Mulund not only does this, but also spends hours on the Internet reading up on illnesses and associating himself with them.
According to Ritvik Sharma’s (name changed) parents, he has ‘this strange habit of reading up on various illnesses on the Internet and then believing that he suffers from them’. Ritvik, said the Sharmas, would read about diseases no sooner he would hear about them. They were alarmed when they noticed their son was undergoing several medical tests in spite of being ‘perfectly healthy’.
When they realised what Ritvik was doing was unusual, the Sharmas visited a psychiatrist to understand this strange habit of their son.
“Ritvik Sharma’s parents came to me saying he would get multiple health tests done every month, or sometimes more often. He was in a job wherein he worked for six months continuously and had an off for the next six months. So during his break, he would keep reading up on different diseases and their symptoms online,” said Dr Sagar Karia, secretary of Bombay Psychiatric Society and a practising psychiatrist at Mulund.
Ritvik has since undergone sessions and is under treatment to control the severe breakdown he has suffered.
Surprisingly, this is not an unheard-of phenomenon. Everybody has the habit of going to the Internet to seek information, and ‘googling up’ is a term that has become very common. However, too much of it could amount to a disorder, say medical practitioners. The term cyberchondria is a disorder wherein people repeatedly use the Internet to search for health-related information, which may lead to negative consequences.
“This condition is seen among people, who have excessive anxiety about their health and rigorously start looking up for symptoms and associating themselves with several illnesses. What really happens then is, they end up bogging themselves down to the extent that they need long-term help,” said Dr Bharat Shah, professor and HOD psychiatry department, K J Somaiya Medical College and Research Centre.
“Patients arrive to the hospital with a pile of Google-stack from their own research on the web, which makes it potentially problematic. The culture of cyber self diagnosis takes place due to a lot of reasons. Probably a close family member is sick or the fear of not being able to afford medical expenses, make them vulnerable to the dangerously accessible material. It’s upsetting to see websites citing facts and scaring the patients. There are no regulations on these. I suggest my patients to be aware about the symptoms and illnesses, without letting fear and anxieties debilitate with their life, ” said Dr Hozefa A Bhinderwala, psychiatrist at Global Hospitals, Mumbai.