Graduation Date

Fall 12-16-2018

Grading Professor

Emily Laber-Warren

Subject Concentration

Health & Science

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Hypochondria, which is now broadly known as health anxiety, is the fear of a serious illness that continues despite evidence to the contrary from laboratory tests and the reassurance of physicians. In the past people with this disorder would go from doctor to doctor seeking an answer, but now many people rely solely upon online information.

For people with health anxiety, the Internet provides a lot of fodder. Researchers have recently coined the term "cyberchondria" to describe the phenomenon of increased health anxiety due to online health searches.

Entering questions like “Who started World War Two?” or “Who was the lead singer in Menudo?” into a blank rectangular space in a Web browser has become ubiquitous, whenever we don’t know or can’t remember something. With answers always apparently available at our fingertips, many believe that we are in the golden age of information. But for man this glut of information is the source of catastrophic thoughts causing anxiety, panic and obsession.

Health anxiety affects some 4% to 5% of people in the U.S. But experts believe the condition may be underreported and that, in part because of the availability of easy access to Web-based information, the percentage could be closer to 12%—or even twice that, said Dr. Timothy Scarella, an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “You’re training your brain that when I have an important question about my health, I will get an instant answer when I search for it,” he said. “The googling is an attempt to relieve that discomfort, but the real problem is the anxiety.”

The term “hypochondria” was replaced with health anxiety to de-stigmatize the psychological condition. The change occurred because people with the disorder feel invalidated and dismissed by health professionals.

This piece takes a look at health anxiety triggered by the internet.


Available for download on Sunday, December 31, 2023