Friday, October 16, 2009

Münchausen By Media

The Internet makes it so easy to develop weird and unusual diseases.  Just plop a symptom into Google and suddenly you find yourself with stomach cancer, Cushing's or other dread diseases.

Even on TV, the ads for lawyers almost convince people they might have mesothelioma and other rare illnesses that might bring you - and them! - bundles of money if you just sue someone.

Magazine ads implore you to "ask your doctor about..." this drug or that you might or might not need.  Your doctor might just give it to you to keep you from asking.  And there's a needless medication that brings profit to the drug company and side effects to you.

TV shows like House and Mystery Diagnosis will show you diseases you never dreamed about.

There's a great topic on the Power Surge message boards, What's the worst "disease or ailment" you've had, where the women discuss the diseases they thought that they had, based on symptoms, what they've seen online, in the news but not based on reality.

I've done it myself.  About the only time I was right was with my Cushing's diagnosis.  That one was a good call. But my thoughts of kidney cancer metastasis haven't come true (yet, anyway!).

There's been information online lately about Münchausen Syndrome.  Wikipedia says:

"...the affected person exaggerates or creates symptoms of illnesses in themselves or their child/children in order to gain investigation, treatment, attention, sympathy, and comfort from medical personnel. In some extremes, people suffering from Münchausen's Syndrome are highly knowledgeable about the practice of medicine, and are able to produce symptoms that result in multiple unnecessary operations. For example, they may inject a vein with infected material, causing widespread infection of unknown origin, and as a result cause lengthy and costly medical analysis and prolonged hospital stay. The role of "patient" is a familiar and comforting one, and it fills a psychological need in people with Münchausen's. It is distinct from hypochondriasis in that patients with Münchausen syndrome are aware that they are exaggerating, whereas sufferers of hypochondriasis believe they actually have a disease."

I think we've all see this, especially online.  It's so easy to sit in the comfort of ones home and add "just a little" to the symptoms, making it more impressive for the readers.

From A Strange Case of Münchausen By Internet:

"...When I first got online, I "met" a young woman who claimed to be a vet, and offered me all kinds of advice about my cat and my tropical fish. She got cancer, slowly declined, then died. We wanted to send flowers, and maybe attend the funeral, and got her ISP to contact her family for us. To our shock, her parents said there was no funeral. She wasn't dead, she wasn't even sick. At least not physically. She'd pulled this kind of "pretend death" several times before, and was in therapy, but every time life got stressful, she'd do it again.

And the Internet is the ideal place for a Munchausen sufferer. With the click of a button, you can find out all kinds of information, to help you pose as anyone you want. People don't expect to see you in person or even talk to you except by e-mail, making deception easier. And often, mailing lists, message boards, etc., will give unqualified support to their members..."

And Media Makes Me Sick:

"...The Internet is hands-down the worst thing to ever happen to the medical world. With Web sites like WebMD, any paranoid hypochondriac like me can jump online, look for symptoms and immediately convince himself he has cancer or Cushing's disease or non-Hodgkin's lymphoma or any other of a million things.

WebMD allows you to find one symptom and then "helps" you by listing 15,000 things it could mean.

Oh my God. I do have a slight ache! That's it. I must have a brain tumor. I'm not kidding, I recently scared myself into thinking I had cancer. It took a specialist, a CT scan and an ultra-sound to convince me otherwise..."

Karen found this older article at http://www.villagevoice.com/2001-06-26/news/cybersickness/1

"...Over nearly three years, from 1998 to 2000, a woman—let's call her Anna—posted to an online support group for people with mental illness. To the larger circle of readers, she acted mostly as friendly counselor. But to a select few, she e-mailed stories of escalating catastrophes. Her husband and two children had perished in a plane crash, she wrote. As a kid, her father had molested her, and she had suffered multiple personality disorder. Finally, she told her trusted—and trusting—confidants that she had just been diagnosed with leukemia.

Gwen Grabb, a psychotherapy intern and mother of three in Los Angeles, says the group believed Anna because she took on the role of helping others, revealing her own difficulties much later, and to an intimate audience. "She was very bright," recalls Grabb. "She was very supportive and kind. One day, she started telling me about `the crash,' what they found in the black box, how you could hear her daughter screaming. I had known her a year. I believed her."

But as the tales became more elaborate and grotesque, Grabb grew suspicious. Along with another group member—Pam Cohen, a bereavement counselor in the Mid-Atlantic region—she did some research and discovered Anna was making it up. It was a shock to all, but worse than that to Cohen. "It is like an emotional rape," she says. People may have been upset over the online life and fatal cancer of the fictional Kaycee, whose creator admitted last month she'd invented the high school character for expressive purposes. But that was geared to a general audience, however easily suckered. Pretenders like Anna hurt a much more vulnerable group—folks who may be seriously ill and are seeking help..."

So - use caution and remember that not everything you read will happen to you!