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Recession triggered wave of health worries

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THURSDAY, Jan. 9, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Americans' concerns about stomach ulcers and other stress-related health problems rose sharply during the recent recession, according to a new study.

Researchers analyzed Google search patterns from December 2008 through the end of 2011 and found that people searched for stress-related health symptoms much more often than in better economic times.

"There were 200 million excess health queries during the Great Recession," study author John Ayers, a research professor at the San Diego State University School of Public Health, said in a university news release.

The researchers identified five keywords -- chest, headache, heart, pain and stomach -- associated with stress-related health problems and came up with a list of nearly 350 commonly searched symptoms.

Searches for stomach ulcer symptoms during the study period were 228 percent higher than would be expected, and searches for headache symptoms were 193 percent higher. When the researchers looked at broad themes, they found that searches were 37 percent higher than would be expected for hernia, 35 percent higher for chest pain and 32 percent higher for heart rhythm problems.

Searches also were higher than normal for back pain, stomach pain, joint pain and toothaches, according to the study, which was published Jan. 7 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"The Great Recession undoubtedly got inside the body via the mind, namely through stress," Ayers said. "For example, the experiences of the unemployed may be stressful, but also those not directly affected by unemployment may become fearful of losing their jobs."

Monitoring health-related search terms on the Internet could help public-health officials identify growing issues such as stress-related chest pain and direct their resources to help people reduce their stress or take other preventive measures, said study co-author Benjamin Althouse, an epidemiologist with the Santa Fe Institute.

This Web-based approach is quicker, cheaper and more efficient than traditional survey methods, Althouse said.

More information

The American Psychological Association explains how to manage stress during tough economic times.

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