2009. Cyberchondriasis: A Study of Internet Access and Health Status Among Gulf War Veterans
I Feria, University of Iowa Health Care and Iowa City VAMC, PM Peloso, University of Iowa Health Care and Iowa City VAMC, CP Carney, University of Iowa Health Care, TR Sampson, University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, EM Letuchy, University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, T Tripp-Reimer, University of Iowa College of Nursing, BN Doebbeling, Iowa City VAMC, University of Iowa Health Care and College of Public Health

Objectives: Gulf War illness has been hypothesized as socially-transmitted, facilitated by media reporting and electronic communication. We examined the relationship between Internet access, and amount of news obtained online with health measures and health care use in Gulf War (GW) veterans.

Methods: We interviewed a population-based sample of GW veterans regarding access to the Internet and use for obtaining news. Those with and without access were compared for a variety of health status measures, which were examined using regression methods: SF-36, medical conditions, life stress, physician-determined disability, health care use, mood and anxiety disorders (SCID-IV), and perceived social support (Social Provisions Scale.

Results: A total of 462 participated; 72% had Internet access.  Median time online per week was 3 hours (range 0-35), with 7% reporting getting obtaining “all” or “most”, and 60%  obtaininggetting “a little” or “none” of their news from the Internet. GW veterans with Internet access had significantly higher SF-36 Physical Component Summary scores (47.5 vs 44.4, P = 0.02), after adjusting for age, gender, deployment status, income, and insurance coverage.  PGW veterans reporting “all” or “most” of their news from the Internet had lower bodily pain (P = 0.03). Health care use (inpatient, outpatient, ER) between groups was not different. Self-reported medical conditions, life stress, and physician-determined disability were comparable between groups.  Prevalence of bipolar disorder (0% vs 2.4%, P = 0.02) and panic disorder (3.3% vs 0%, P = 0.04) varied between high versus non-users of the Internet. (P = 0.04).  Internet access was associated with higher scores levels of social support.

Conclusions: Overall, Internet access among GW veterans is associated with higher health related quality of life and positively correlated with perceived social support. Our data do not support a direct link between Internet use and increased rates of self-reported medical conditions.

Impact: High use of the Internet among veterans following the Gulf War was unassociated with lower HRQL among GW veterans. Further study of the potential role of a media effect is needed.