Oct 11, 2013 10:24 AM EDT
People who fear uncertainty should refrain from searching health information online, according to a new study conducted by researchers from Baylor University. Researchers said that when such people engage in online self-diagnosis and believe that they are suffering from a serious disease looking at the symptoms, it adds on to their worries.
"If I'm someone who doesn't like uncertainty, I may become more anxious, search further, monitor my body more, go to the doctor more frequently and the more you search, the more you consider the possibilities," Thomas A. Fergus, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience, told Health 24.
"If I see a site about traumatic brain injuries and have difficulties tolerating uncertainty, I might be more likely to worry that's the cause of the bump on my head," Fergus said.
Fergus said that constant fears about suffering from a possible disease can lead to stress about medical bills, disability and job loss, which further prompts more unnecessary Internet searching, doctor visits, medical tests and further stain.
The researchers arrived at a conclusion after 512 healthy men and women, with an average age of 33. Fergus analysed how searches for health information online affected their anxiety and how they responded to statements such as, "I always want to know what the future has in store for me" and "I spend most of my time worrying about my health".
He found that people who find it difficult tolerating uncertainty are 'especially likely' to experience cyberchondria, BT reports. Cyberchondria is the online equivalent of hypochondria.
Fergus also found that searching for medical information online and health anxiety grew significantly stronger as intolerance of uncertainty increased. People who have an 'intolerance of uncertainty' involve in 'safety behaviours' - such as looking out for symptoms online to reduce their agony.
"An individual who searches for medical information on the internet will likely be presented with multiple explanations for symptoms, some of which might be catastrophic explanations. The present results indicate that individuals with high intolerance of uncertainty are especially likely to experience health anxiety in response to such internet searches," Fergus wrote in the study, Times of Malta reports.
Fergus said that online medical information disturbs people more than reading medical manuals or directly consulting a doctor.
"When you look at a medical book, you might not see all the possibilities at once, but online you're presented with so many," Fergus said.
The finding has been published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.
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