For Cyberchondriacs, the Internet Is the Enemy

For 'cyberchondriacs,' the Internet is the enemy.

ByABC News via logo
May 18, 2007, 5:38 PM

May 19, 2007 — -- With Internet access at nearly everyone's fingertips, trying to find the cause of a headache or muscle pain can be just a few keystrokes away. According to a Pew Internet study, more than 7 million Americans go online every day to research health or medical information.

But for a group of people dubbed "cyberchondriacs," online is far worse for their health than the ache or pain itself.

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"They're called cyberchondriacs and I would say that's the group of hypochondriacs who have a strong, obsessive compulsive focus to their symptoms," Dr. Brian Fallon of Columbia University said.

Ninety percent of hypochondriacs with Internet access become cyberchondriacs, according to Fallon. He said it's a natural progression.

"Cyberchondria can be a terrible, devastating disease in the sense that the individual focuses on nothing other than checking their symptoms on the Internet and it destroys their lives," he said.

Lee Gardon, 47, is a recovering cyberchondriac. Despite his doctor's repeated insistence that he was in good health, Gardon could not believe it.

"I would acquire certain symptoms, it could be just a simple muscle ache or a joint ache and I would go and look into Web pages," Gardon said.

Gardon said he would surf the Web for up to four hours a day, searching for answers. At times he thought he had symptoms of a heart attack -- or worse.

"I would feel tingling in my feet and fingers and a few months later, I was 100 percent convinced I had MS," Gardon said.

His cyberchondria got so bad, he would obsess in the middle of the night and get out of bed and check more of his symptoms. The man who once had passions for running and wind surfing had transformed into someone who would map out hospital locations and the quickest ways to get there in case of an emergency.

"[It was] very, very painful, because he was unreachable," said Gardon's wife, Laura Reyes. "He was really unreachable."