Nation of hypochondriacs

Posted in: Research Last updated: 31 Aug 2010

Millions of people in Britain convince themselves they are seriously ill, or dying – and use the internet to diagnose their symptoms.

A new study shows 61 per cent of people turn to the World Wide Web for medical information when feeling unwell.

And 31 per cent have convinced themselves they are seriously ill when feeling under the weather.

Forty three per cent of people have assumed that their tummy upset was a far more serious case of food poisoning, and 38 per cent believed that their common cold was an attack of influenza.

Almost one in five suffering from indigestion escalated their symptoms to those of a heart attack.

The survey of 3,000 people, conducted by Engage Mutual, reveals more than a third of those with headaches have convinced themselves they had a migraine, while 28 per cent of people with abdominal pain have mistakenly self-diagnosed appendicitis.

Twenty eight per cent of Brits have misdiagnosed their stiff joints for arthritis, while 18 per cent have mistaken a hang-over for something they ate, or food poisoning.

Incredibly, 16 per cent of migraine sufferers have been convinced they had a brain tumour and 15 per cent of people who have felt short of breath concluded they had lung disease.

And 16 per cent have self-diagnosed lower back ache as kidney disease.

In fact, just over half of those polled admit they consult the internet as a first port of call when feeling ill, prior to visiting a doctor.

Tina Clare at Engage Mutual said:

“We seem to be a nation of worriers when it comes to our health.  Forty six per cent of people are worried about getting a terminal illness, and many are convincing themselves that everyday symptoms are indicative of serious ill health.

“While the internet can be a great information resource, it is always best to see a doctor when ill.”

“Not only can a medical professional put your mind at rest, they can also check out all the symptoms and tell you what the matter really is.”

One in six folk frequently convince themselves they are walking around with a terminal illness. Nearly a quarter of respondents telephone NHS Direct if they feel ill, with people visiting a nurse or doctor  an average of just two or three times a year, despite worrying about illness far more often.

Nineteen per cent of survey respondents admitted to having felt embarrassed when they realised their symptoms were not connected to anything serious.  And 11 per cent have been advised by a doctor that they were slightly over-reacting.

Tina Clare continues:

“It is important to keep things in proportion.  Not least because over worrying, and high stress levels can have a negative impact on our health.

“Take action to stay as healthy as you can with a nutritious diet and regular exercise.  And bear in mind that research on the internet is not a substitute for consulting a health professional.”


 Actual Complaint  Fear of  
 Tummy upset  Food poisoning  43%
 Common cold  Flu  38%
 Headache  Migraine  35%
 Lower abdominal pain  Appendicitis  28%
 Stiff joints  Arthritis  28%
 Indigestion  Heart Attack  19%
 Hung over  Food poisoning / something eaten  18%
 Migraine  Brain tumour  16%
 Shortness of breath  Lung disease  15%
 Lower back ache  Kidney disease  16%