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Web accelerates anxiety for cyberchondriacs

Tuesday - 1/29/2013, 4:15am  ET

Randi Martin, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - In today's Web-woven world, diagnosing every ache and pain can be as simple as powering up the computer and logging on to the Internet. If you self- diagnose health symptoms with the aid of a search engine, you may be a cyberchondriac.

"The Web really has enhanced our lives, but there is a potential to harm us if we don't use it properly," says Dr. Gary Small, professor of psychiatry at UCLA.

One ramification of using the Internet to diagnose a health problem is the onset of anxiety.

"What happens is the computer and the Internet accelerate and heighten people's anxiety," Small says. "There's no question about it."

According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, 59 percent of adults who use the Internet have looked for health information in the past year. About 35 percent admit to trying to diagnosis their own medical conditions.

When looking up medical information online, Small urges searchers to be careful when choosing a website. He says that dot-edu and dot-org sites can be more reliable than dot-com sites.

"But even there, it's not 100 percent," Small says.

Sites such as Mayo Clinic, WebMD and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are some of the better options for learning more about medical symptoms. However, the best diagnosis comes from a discussion with your doctor.

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(Copyright 2013 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)