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Sick or not sick? – Hypochondriasis

  • Introduction.

An individual with hypochondria or hypochondriasis is known as hypochondriac. Hypochondriacs are unduly alarmed about any physical or psychological symptoms they detect. No matter how minor the symptom may be, they are convinced that they are diagnosed with a serious illness.

As mentioned in Journal of Contemporary Psychology, Hypochondriasis is debilitating condition resulting from an inaccurate perception of the condition of body or mind despite the absence of actual medical diagnosis.

Hypochondria as per dictionary meaning is a psychological disorder characterized by excessive pre-occupation or worry about having a serious illness. 

In a laymen words, it is a condition where a person is excessively worried over minor symptoms even though such symptoms do not indicate any serious medical condition. It can also be considered as illness anxiety disorder, where one starts to worry of suffering from major disease when he/she has minor stomach pains or minor rash.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder – Fifth edition published by American psychiatric association in 2013, replaced Hypochondriasis with ‘Illness anxiety disorder’

  • Significant symptoms…

Hypochondria is a psychological state. It is not age specific although it is usually seen in early adulthood. No lab tests and scans are required to diagnose the disorder. There are no specific set of symptoms but the following points can be taken into account.

  1. Checking yourself for supposed illness time and again.
  2. Talking excessively about your health and illness.
  3. Finding no assurance from doctors or switching doctors frequently.
  4. Over concerned regarding normal body sensations thinking you have a serious illness.
  5. Avoiding people or places due to fear of health risk.
  6. On the contrary, avoiding or procrastinating health-tests and doctor visits in fear of finding out of some severe health condition.

Overwhelming anxiety can lead to stomach aches, headaches, dizziness, hyper-tension, fatigue etc. thus assuring the person of his/her suffering from a major disease. Hypochondriasis often co-exists with OCD (Obsessive-compulsive disorder), paranoia, panic attacks, major depression episodes etc.

  • Possible causes…

No exact cause can be locked down for being hypochondriac. Possible causes for hypochondria are:

  1. Bad experiences: We’ve heard of certain cases where a minor chest pain led to fatal heart attack, a mole on skin led to skin cancer etc. For a person suffering from hypochondriasis all the minor sensations in their body is a symptom of a cancer or other serious disease which will go undiagnosed till the last stage.
  2. Family history and beliefs: Hypochondria is not genetic but the habits and beliefs does flow from one generation to other. Over protective parents and excessive focus on minor health issues increases the chances of one being hypochondriac.
  3. Cyberchondriac: Researching medical conditions on the internet is termed as cyberchondriac. Too much surfing on symptoms of a disease encourages a person to overthink about it. Hypochondriacs tend to relate every minute discomfort towards a major illness’ symptom.
  • Doctor’s Diagnosis…

In order to assure the patient that he/she is not suffering from any major illness, the general physician may require to check basic lab tests and scans as per the symptoms.

  1. For a doctor to conclude that a person is hypochondriac, the patient must show consistent symptoms for at least 6 months’ duration, despite doctor’s reassurances and medical evaluation.
  2. Also the patient should have a persistent belief of suffering or diagnosing minimum of two diseases, one of which should be specifically named by the patient.
  3. Also it is necessary to rule out other mental disorders such as schizophrenia, delusional disorder etc.
  4. Addictive habits of the patient are also considered while diagnosis.
  • Treatment…

‘Self-help is the best help’ for hypochondriacs this can be a mojo. In spite of repetitive assurances by doctors it is difficult to convince hypochondriacs.

  1. A psychotherapist can help talk and convince the patient that he /she is not ill.
  2. Psychotic meds or anti-depressant tablets may be prescribed to help the patient to calm the anxiety.
  3. Spending time on a hobby can be suggested.
  4. Internet surfing for the diseases’ symptoms should be avoided.
  5. Stress management sessions and groups can be joined.
  6. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the effective treatments.
  7. Understanding how the hypochondriasis is affecting their personal and social life also helps the patient to follow the treatment with dedication.
  • Conclusion…

Hypochondriasis is a mental disorder which can be treated with the support of family and friends. It is important to talk about the same with doctors and psychotherapist. A person may go through major depressive episodes when the family members do not take their symptoms seriously. Avoiding self-diagnosis can be one of the best way to avoid hypochondria.

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