HYPOCHONDRIASIS or HYPOCHONDRIA (sometimes referred to as health phobia or health anxiety) refers to excessive preoccupancy or worry about having a serious illness. This debilitating condition is the result of an inaccurate perception of the condition of body or mind despite the absence of an actual medical condition. An individual suffering from hypochondriasis is known as a HYPOCHONDRIAC. Hypochondriacs become unduly alarmed about any physical or psychological symptoms they detect, no matter how minor the symptom may be, and are convinced that they have, or are about to be diagnosed with, a serious illness.
Often, hypochondria persists even after a physician has evaluated a person and reassured them that their concerns about symptoms do not have an underlying medical basis or, if there is a medical illness, their concerns are far in excess of what is appropriate for the level of disease. Many hypochondriacs focus on a particular symptom as the catalyst of their worrying, such as gastro-intestinal problems, palpitations, or muscle fatigue. To qualify for the diagnosis of hypochondria the symptoms must have been experienced for at least 6 months.
Hypochondria is often characterized by fears that minor bodily or mental symptoms may indicate a serious illness, constant self-examination and self-diagnosis, and a preoccupation with one’s body. For example, a person who has a minor cough may think that they have tuberculosis or sounds produced by organs in the body, such as those made by the intestines, might be seen as a sign of a very serious illness to patients dealing with hypochondriasis. Many individuals with hypochondriasis express doubt and disbelief in the doctors’ diagnosis, and report that doctors’ reassurance about an absence of a serious medical condition is unconvincing, or short-lasting. Additionally, many hypochondriacs experience elevated blood pressure, stress, and anxiety in the presence of doctors or while occupying a medical facility, a condition known as “white coat syndrome”. Many hypochondriacs require constant reassurance, either from doctors, family, or friends, and the disorder can become a disabling torment for the individual with hypochondriasis, as well as his or her family and friends. Some hypochondriacal individuals completely avoid any reminder of illness, whereas others frequently visit medical facilities, sometimes obsessively. Other hypochondriacs will never speak about their terror, convinced that their fear of having a serious illness will not be taken seriously by those in whom they confide. Studies have shown that it affects 3% of health facility visitor.
Hypochondria symptoms include:
- Having a long-term intense fear or anxiety about having a serious disease or health condition
- Worrying that minor symptoms or bodily sensations mean you have a serious illness
- Seeing doctors repeated times or having involved medical exams such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), echocardiograms or exploratory surgery
- Frequently switching doctors — if one doctor tells you that you aren’t sick, you may not believe it and seek out other opinions
- Continuously talking about your symptoms or suspected diseases with family and friends
- Obsessively doing health research
- Frequently checking your body for problems, such as lumps or sores
- Frequently checking your vital signs, such as pulse or blood pressure
- Thinking you have a disease after reading or hearing about it
Hypochondria vs. normal worries
Not everyone who worries about health problems has hypochondria. Having symptoms caused by something you and your doctor can’t identify clearly can cause anxiety. In some cases, a second opinion or further tests may be in order.
However, if you start to search for ailments that seem to match your symptoms, chances are you’ll find something. Minor ailments often share symptoms with more-serious disorders. It’s become easier to search out health information on the Internet in recent years. Having easy access to information about every possible thing that could be wrong can fuel your anxiety.
There’s nothing wrong with informing yourself. Being an active participant in your own health is an important part of staying well. However, you may be crossing the line into hypochondria if you’re consumed by the idea that something is seriously wrong even though you’ve had appropriate tests and reassurance from your doctor that everything’s OK.
When to see a doctor
If you have signs and symptoms of hypochondria, consider talking to a mental health provider such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or licensed counselor. You may decide to take the step yourself or a family member may suggest that you seek help. At some point, a doctor, nurse or other health care professional may suggest that you visit a mental health provider.
It may seem to make no sense to visit a mental health provider when you’re certain that you have a medical disease. But try to keep an open mind. Be willing to consider the possibility that your worries are based on your emotions rather than fact. Listen to the opinions of your family members and friends.
Even if you don’t have all of the symptoms of hypochondria, it’s not a bad idea to talk to a mental health provider about your health worries. Hypochondria or not, ongoing worries about your health can make you miserable. Seeing a mental health provider for health anxiety may help. In addition, I strongly recommend that people visit psychologists and counselors as often as they can. One of the importance of clinical psychologists is in situations like this such that less work is done by the psychiatrists as you would only be seeing him based on referrals.
Helping a loved one
Sometimes, people need encouragement to go seek help. If you have a loved one with signs and symptoms of hypochondria, have an open and honest discussion about your concerns and the things you’ve noticed. You may not be able to force someone to seek help for a mental health problem, but you can offer encouragement and support. You can also help your loved one find a qualified doctor or mental health provider and make an appointment. Offer to go to an appointment with him or her.
Many times, people are overwhelmed that they have an undiagnosed major health issue. It’s not clear why this happens. It’s thought that personality, life experiences, upbringing and inherited traits may all play a role.
There are similarities between hypochondria and anxiety disorders such as panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Factors that may increase your risk of developing hypochondria include:
- Having a serious illness during childhood
- Knowing family members or others with a serious disease
- The death of a loved one
- Having an anxiety disorder
- Believing good health means that you are free of all physical symptoms or unusual bodily sensations
- Having close family members with hypochondria
- Feeling especially vulnerable to illness or disease
- Having parents who were neglectful or abusive
Hypochondria occur about equally in men and women. It can develop at any age, even in children, but it most often starts in early adulthood
Complications of hypochondria can include:
- Health risks associated with unnecessary medical procedures
- Anxiety disorders
- Excessive anger and frustration
- Substance abuse
Hypochondria can be overwhelming and disabling. You may become so obsessed with finding a cause for your physical symptoms that it affects your daily life. You may frequently miss work or school. Your health may be all that you can think about or talk about, which can frustrate family and friends. Common problems linked to hypochondria include:
- Work or school problems
- Relationship difficulties
- Strained relationships with your health providers
- Financial problems related to medical costs
If your doctor or mental health provider believes you may have hypochondria or another psychological condition, he or she will likely ask a number of questions or have you fill out a psychological questionnaire. If your doctor or mental health provider is concerned that your symptoms could be a sign of physical illness, he or she may order medical tests.
These steps can help pinpoint a diagnosis by ruling out other problems that could be causing your symptoms and checking for any related complications.
Exams and tests may include:
- Physical exam. This generally involves measuring height and weight, checking vital signs, such as heart rate, blood pressure and temperature, listening to your heart and lungs, and examining your abdomen.
- Psychological evaluation. A doctor or mental health provider will talk to you about your thoughts, feelings and behavior patterns. He or she will ask about your symptoms, including when they started, how severe they are, how they affect your daily life and whether you’ve had similar episodes in the past.
- Laboratory tests. These may include a complete blood count (CBC), screening for alcohol and drugs, and checking your thyroid function.
Treatment for hypochondria can include psychological counseling, education and medications.
- Psychological counseling. Psychological counseling (psychotherapy) is the primary treatment for hypochondria. A form of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be the most effective treatment. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps you recognize and stop behavior associated with your anxiety, such as constantly monitoring your body for problems. Sometimes counseling may include exposure therapy, in which you directly confront your health fears in a safe environment and learn skills to cope with these uncomfortable sensations.
- Education about hypochondria. Known as psychoeducation, this type of counseling can help you and your family better understand what hypochondria is, why you have it and how to cope with your health fears.
Sadly, there is no prevention. There’s no sure way to prevent hypochondria. Get help as soon as possible if ongoing concerns about your health are getting worse, are making you unhappy or are causing problems. Addressing hypochondria early can reduce its impact on your life.
Dear friends, I recommend you talk to a counselor, psychologist or mental health provider today if you think you are suffering from this condition. you can as well help a friend.
I NEED YOU TO SURVIVE
do share if helpful.
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