A more recent analysis of that study’s data, published in the December 2014 issue of PLoS ONE, shows that the treatment led to long-term changes in the personality trait of neuroticism.5 At the end of the 12-week treatment period and six months later, the internet-based CBT participants demonstrated personality profiles similar to those of the general population.  A March study found that group-based CBT also reduces health anxiety.6  

Though the research on cyberchondria is in its early stages, “I recommend that clinicians approach these issues similar to how they would with non-Internet related maintenance factors for health anxiety,” Singh said. “To ban all Internet use is, in my opinion, both impractical and imprudent,” since it is used for many other reasons and can even be an important source of health information at times.


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“To discern how health-related internet searches are contributing to anxiety, the clinician may ask patients to keep track of details regarding their searches, and then help them wean off of the health-related usage, rather than eliminate it entirely,” he added.

Tori Rodriguez, MA, LPC, is a psychotherapist and freelancer writer based in Atlanta.

References

  1. Singh K and Brown RJ. Health-related Internet habits and health anxiety in university students. Anxiety, Stress & Coping. 2014; 27(5):542-54.
  2. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 2013; 5th ed. Washington, DC.
  3. Norr AM, et al. Anxiety sensitivity and intolerance of uncertainty as potential risk factors for cyberchondria. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2015; 174:64-9.
  4. Hedman E, et al. Internet-based cognitive-behavioural therapy for severe health anxiety: randomised controlled trial.The British Journal of Psychiatry. 2011; 198(3):230-6.
  5. Hedman E, et al. Personality Change following Internet-Based Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Severe Health Anxiety. PLoS ONE. 2014; 9(12):e113871.
  6. Weck F,et al. Effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral group therapy for patients with hypochondriasis (health anxiety). J Anxiety Disord. 2015; 30:1-7.