Hypochondria

By:    Published: June 28, 2012

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People who suffer from hypochondria become obsessed with thoughts of having a serious illness. They believe that they are suffering from an undetected illness that may be life-threatening. This often results in severe anxiety that can last for months or years, despite receiving a clean bill of health from one or more doctors.

What Is Hypochondria?

Hypochondria is a condition in which an individual believes that any physical symptoms that are present are the result of having a serious, life-threatening illness. This is true even if the individual has received a clean bill of health, with no medical evidence that any illness exists.

Although it is normal to occasionally worry about health, individuals who have hypochondria have obsessive thoughts that consume their lives. It can interfere with their daily activities at work, in their social life and in their relationships with others.

What Are The Symptoms Of Hypochondria?

Although symptoms can vary among individuals, most people who suffer from hypochondria have a long-term crippling fear of having an undetected, serious illness. Additional hypochondria symptoms may include:

  • Excessive worrying about minor physical symptoms.
  • Excessive worrying that a serious, life-threatening illness is present.
  • Repeatedly visiting doctors hoping to find a diagnosis.
  • Requesting in-depth medical tests such as MRI’s or exploratory surgery.
  • Changing doctors often in hopes of finding one that will admit there is a serious illness.
  • Always speaking to friends and family members about symptoms or possible diseases .
  • Constantly performing research into health conditions.
  • Frequently looking for sores, lumps or other problems in the body.
  • Checking vital signs or pulse rate often.
  • Becoming convinced that a disease is present after hearing about that disease.

Many people who worry about their health do not suffer from hypochondria. If symptoms are present, but the cause has not been identified by a physician, this can lead to stress and anxiety. A second opinion may be needed to investigate the situation further. This is very different from full-blown hypochondria, which causes healthy individuals to become obsessed with their health.

The Internet has made it possible for people to perform a quick search of medical conditions. Although this can be beneficial, it can also lead to unnecessary worry and anxiety, as most minor ailments have the same symptoms as serious medical conditions. For a hypochondriac, these types of health searches can do more harm than good, as just about any medical symptom will likely produce a long list of possible causes.

While becoming informed and actively involved in your own health and is a good thing, excessive worrying about having a serious illness in the absence of a confirmed medical condition is not.

What Causes Hypochondria?

There is no exact cause for the development of hypochondria. Some individuals who develop the condition may do so as a result of personality traits, life experiences and hereditary factors. Hypochondria shares similar traits with obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety disorders and panic disorders. It can occur in both men and women and can affect people of any age, however, symptoms generally develop by early adulthood.

There are certain factors that are believed to increase the risk of developing hypochondria. Many individuals who suffer from the condition also have an anxiety disorder. They may have had a serious illness as a child or may have watched a close family member go through a serious illness. Many individuals with hypochondria have experienced:

  • The death of a close friend or family member.
  • An abusive or neglectful upbringing.
  • Close family members with hypochondria.
  • An overwhelming belief that any physical symptoms that are present, even if very minor, are an indication of poor health.
  • Feelings of being especially vulnerable to diseases.

When To See A Doctor

Individuals who suffer from symptoms of hypochondria should schedule an appointment with a mental health professional such as a licensed counselor, clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. Many times, individuals who suffer from hypochondria will refuse to see a mental health professional because they believe their problem is a true illness. It is important for these individuals to understand that their worries are a result of their emotions and mental state and not a result of an undiagnosed medical condition.

It can be frustrating for individual who have a loved one suffering from hypochondria. Often times they feel helpless and unable to offer a solution to the problem. If you are the loved one of an individual who is displaying symptoms of hypochondria, you should do your best to sit him down and have an honest conversation about the symptoms you have observed and the concerns you have about his condition. Although you cannot force your loved one to seek professional help, you can do your best to encourage him to do so and support his efforts along the way. Offering to help find a qualified mental help professional and to attend the appointment with him can help ease some of his anxiety and show that you are willing to support him during his treatment.

How Is Hypochondria Diagnosed?

Many times a primary care doctor will recognize the symptoms of hypochondria in a patient who makes repeated appointments in hopes of finding an underlying illness or disease. If the doctor suspects hypochondria, he will likely ask you to fill out a psychological questionnaire and will conduct a psychological evaluation.

During the evaluation, you will be asked about the symptoms you are having, your thoughts about the symptoms and the overall state of your health, your behavior patterns, and how your symptoms and thoughts affect your everyday life.

If the symptoms for hypochondria, as presented in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders are present, a diagnosis can be confirmed. The required symptoms that must be present for a diagnosis to be made include:

  • A preoccupation with having an undiagnosed serious illness based on symptoms that has lasted for 6 months or longer
  • Obsessive worrying about the preoccupation
  • Preoccupation interferes with daily life

How Is Hypochondria Treated?

Treatment for hypochondria involves mental health solutions such as professional psychological therapy, education and possibly the use of medications. The most commonly used form of treatment for hypochondria is psychotherapy, particularly cognitive behavior therapy. This type of therapy helps an individual to recognize obsessive behaviors which allows him to work to put an end to them.

Psychoeducation is a form of counseling that helps the individual and his loved ones develop a better understanding of the condition and teaches coping mechanisms, and can also be an effective treatment. Sometimes, medications may be recommended to help treat other mental disorders that can intensify hypochondria.

Can Hypochondria Be Treated With Home Remedies?

Hypochondria generally requires professional treatment, however, there are steps that can be taken at home to alleviate symptoms and help get the condition under control. It is important to stick with the treatment plan that your health care provider has developed for you. Attending all therapy sessions and being sure to take all medications as prescribed can help ensure that your treatment plan stays on course.

It is important to learn to recognize what your triggers are so that you can avoid them whenever possible. Developing a plan of attack for how to handle symptoms if they return can also be helpful.

Lifestyle choices are important for keeping the condition under control. Engaging in physical activity can help manage many of the symptoms of hypochondria, especially anxiety, stress, depression and obsessive thoughts. Avoiding drugs and alcohol is important as they can make symptoms worse and increase anxiety levels. In addition, they may interfere with certain medications.

Considerations

Hypochondria can be a debilitating condition that can interfere with your everyday life if left untreated. It is important to understand that it is not necessary to suffer from this condition, obsessively worrying about the state of your health. Although hypochondria may never go away completely, treatment options are available that can bring symptoms under control and help you manage the condition.

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