The relationships between health anxiety, online health information seeking, and cyberchondria: Systematic review and meta-analysis

J Affect Disord. 2019 Feb 15;245:270-278. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2018.11.037. Epub 2018 Nov 5.

Abstract

Background: Cyberchondria refers to an abnormal behavioral pattern in which excessive or repeated online searches for health-related information are distressing or anxiety-provoking. Health anxiety has been found to be associated with both online health information seeking and cyberchondria. The aims of the present systematic review and meta-analysis were to examine the magnitude of these associations and identify any moderator variables.

Methods: A systematic literature search was performed across several databases (PsycINFO, PubMed, Embase) and reference lists of included studies.

Results: Twenty studies were included across two independent meta-analyses, with 7373 participants. Random effects meta-analyses showed that there was a positive correlation between health anxiety and online health information seeking [r = 0.34, 95% CI (0.20, 0.48), p < .0001], and between health anxiety and cyberchondria [r = 0.62, 95% CI (0.52, 0.71), p < .0001]. A meta-regression indicated that the age of study participants [Q(1) = 4.58, p = .03] was partly responsible for the heterogeneity found for the relationship between health anxiety and cyberchondria.

Limitations: The generalizability and validity of our findings are restricted by the methodological limitations of the primary studies, namely, an over-reliance on a single measure of cyberchondria, the Cyberchondria Severity Scale.

Conclusions: Our review found a positive correlation between health anxiety and online health information seeking, and between health anxiety and cyberchondria. Further research should aim to explore the contexts for these associations as well as address the identified limitations of the extant literature.

Keywords: Cyberchondria; Health anxiety; Internet; Meta-analysis; Online seeking; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Consumer Health Information / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypochondriasis / psychology*
  • Information Seeking Behavior*
  • Internet
  • Male