Hypochondriasis, more commonly referred to as hypochondria, is a somatoform disorder in which a person experiences worry, fear and anxiety about their health. A hypochondriac will often misinterpret normal bodily sensations as a serious illness or as a sign that they will become seriously ill. Some hypochondriacs keep their concerns to themselves out of sheer fear that they have a horrible problem, and others seek constant medical assistance, in which they leave disappointed and unconvinced at the doctor’s findings of no conceivable medical problem.
Symptoms of Hypochondriasis
- Obsessively doing health research
- Worry of serious illness for at least six months
- Confusing normal bodily sensations as a serious problem
- Tension and stress in daily life, relationships and jobs
- Continuously talking about your symptoms or suspected diseases
- Thinking you have a disease after reading or hearing about it
- Seeing doctors repeated times or having involved medical exams
- Continual fear even with doctor’s reassurance
- Frequently switching doctors – if one doctor tells you that you aren’t sick, you may not believe it and seek out other opinions
What Causes Hypochondriasis?
As with many other somatoform disorders, nobody knows for sure what causes hypochondriasis. Researchers believe the problem could originate in the affected person’s belief or fear that they deserve illness because of some wrongdoing in the past. Perhaps they have guilty conscience for some reason, and believe that “karma” has come around to them. Another theory is that the hypochondriac has learned benefits of being sick, such as getting extra attention. This would not be a conscious decision, though. Hypochondria is not the same as malingering, or a fictitious illness.
Hypochondria is also sometimes a result of other psychological illnesses such as depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. In other instances, it can occur after a stressful or traumatic event, or in people with a family history of hypochondriasis.
Cyberchondria is a colloquial term used to describe the hypochondria that results from people self-diagnosing via the Internet. The media can contribute with television shows depicting strange illnesses, or after major outbreaks of diseases or illnesses are constantly reported in the news.
Treatment for Hypochondria
Because hypochondria is a psychological condition, it is important to seek out professional help from a therapist. Patients who have had many doctor visits with no findings of any malignant symptoms may want to consider that you they are, in fact, a hypochondriac. This term is used loosely among friends and family members, but hypochondria is a real disorder that interferes with daily life that should be properly treated by a professional. Treatment for hypochondria includes psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, stress management support, and sometimes medication. Medication can help also if the hypochondria is a result of another issue like depression.
What Should You Do?
A hypochondriac should do a few things to feel better. First, it’s vital to receive psychological help. A trained professional can help you get to the bottom of what’s causing the fear and anxiety about your health. With proper treatment and support, you can begin to feel unburdened by worry, and go on to live a fully functional, productive life. Because a hypochondriac is constantly worried about their physical health, it’s best to stay as physically healthy as possible. Consuming a healthy, nutritious diet, getting regular exercise, and getting the right vitamins and minerals needed for your age, gender and activity level is also very important.
In order to successfully recover, it’s also necessary for the patient to maintain a healthy, beneficial relationship with their regular health care provider. This relationship should be supportive, not judgmental, and dependable. Make sure to keep a doctor that you trust, and that is willing to also work with your psychological therapist. Remember, once you get help, you won’t have to live in fear any more.
- Wikipedia – Wikipedia article about hypochondriasis, including DSM-IV diagnostic criteria.
- University of Maryland Medical Center – Plentiful information about hypochondriasis, especially about treatment options.
- Cleveland Clinic – Important information about hypochondria and treatment support.
- Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders – Information about hypochondriasis, including symptoms, causes, demographics and diagnosis.