Hypochondria is a health anxiety disorder, where the patient excessively worries about the possibility of falling acutely ill. A hypochondriac may not have physical symptoms, but considers minor symptoms- or regular sensations in the body as a sign of acute illness- even if a medical examination denies that existence of an underlying medical condition. Hence, it is the extreme anxiety in the person, rather than the symptoms, that result in immense distress that can disturb normal life.
What is Hypochondria?
Hypochondria is a disorder caused by anxiety that can fluctuate in terms of severity, and it is a long-term condition. The condition can become serious due to stress or age. Psychotherapy is a way of alleviating anxiety, and, at times, it can be cured through medication.
The American Psychiatric Association, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) does not include ‘hypochondriasis or hypochondria’ as a diagnosis any longer. Now, people who were earlier diagnosed with Hypochondria can be diagnosed as having an illness pertaining to anxiety disorder- where the focus is on the fear or excessive worry caused about one’s health.
Symptoms of Hypochondria
Here are the common symptoms of Hypochondria:
- Excessive worrying about having contracted a critical health condition or disease
- Troubled by regular body sensations or minor symptoms and regarding them indicative of a critical illness
- Being extremely uneasy about your health situation
- Inability to feel reassured despite negative test results or visits to the doctor with nothing detected
- Excessive worrying about a certain medical condition or the possibility of feeling that you are at the risk of developing a certain disease/illness since it runs in the family
- Being distressed about having contracted a possible illness, making it difficult for you to function normally
- Frequently checking vital body stats to find signs of disease or illness
- Constantly checking and rechecking your body for signs of illness or disease
- Frequently taking doctor appointments to seek reassurance or avoiding medical attention altogether for fear of being diagnosed with a critical illness
- Avoiding going to places, participating in activities or meeting people to prevent any risk to health
- Frequently indulging in talk concerning your health and the possibility of contracting illnesses.
- Regularly surfing the internet to search for possible illnesses and the causes behind symptoms
Risk factors of Hypochondria
Hypochondria is a disorder that can begin as an early adult or during mid-adulthood. It usually gets aggravated with age, and older adults can even suffer from memory loss due to excessive health-related anxiety.
The following are the risk factors that can be associated with Hypochondria:
- Child abuse history
- Going through a stressful time
- Having experienced a critical illness during childhood or having a parent suffering from a critical illness
- Feeling at risk of a critical illness, which is not critical at all
- Overt usage of the internet to search for health-related topics
- Being naturally predisposed to worrying and feeling anxious
- Issues pertaining to professional performance and absenteeism
- Family or relationship issues due to excessive worrying which can cause friction
- Disability or problems in the ability to function normally in daily life
- Financial problems due to large medical bills and too many visits to the hospital/doctor
- Having a mental health complication such as other anxiety disorders, somatic symptom disorder, personality disorder or depression
Treatment of Hypochondria
The objective of treatment is to assist in anxiety management when it comes to your health and to enhance your capability to function normally in daily life. Talk therapy or psychotherapy is quite beneficial in relieving anxiety disorder or Hypochondria. At times, even medication is recommended to alleviate acute anxiety.
Psychotherapy, especially Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), has proven to be an effective treatment for providing relief from physical sensations that are caused due to health-related anxiety and emotional suffering. Besides CBT, there are other therapies such as Exposure Therapy and Behavioural Stress Management that can also help your anxiety.
At times, you might be given anti-depressants that can help cure, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). You can also be given medications to help enhance mood and reduce anxiety. For this, it is important to consult a doctor to weigh the available options and their associated risks and side-effects.
Not much is medically known about how to prevent Hypochondria; however, the following preventive measures can be used as precautions:
- Offer support and understanding to someone who you think might be suffering from the disorder. Offering understanding can help the patient alleviate the severity of the disorder and also provide a mechanism to cope with it.
- If you know someone suffering from acute anxiety, then help them seek professional medical advice, to prevent their symptoms from worsening and hampering their quality of life.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- What are the causes of Hypochondria?
The exact cause of Hypochondria is unknown, but certain circumstances can increase the risk of developing this disorder such as life stress, a major symptom that appears life-threatening, child abuse history, illness during childhood or a mental disorder history.
- How do I stop being a hypochondriac?
You can initiate professional treatments for Hypochondria which include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, exposure therapy, behavioural stress management, or medications such as antidepressants.
- Can your mind create physical symptoms?
Yes, the mind of people suffering from Hypochondria makes them believe that even simple physical sensations or minor issues are critical and pose a serious health threat.