When you have hypochondria, you become obsessed with the idea that you have a serious or life-threatening disease that hasn't been diagnosed yet. This causes significant anxiety that goes on for months or longer, even though there's no clear medical evidence that you have a serious health problem. Hypochondria is also called hypochondriasis.
While having some anxiety about your health is normal, full-blown hypochondria is so consuming that it causes problems with work, relationships or other areas of your life. Severe hypochondria can be completely disabling.
Although hypochondria is a long-term condition, you don't have to live your life constantly worrying about your health. Treatment such as psychological counseling, medications or simply learning about hypochondria may help ease your worries.
Hypochondria symptoms include:
Hypochondria vs. normal worries
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
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.
Helping a loved one
It's not clear why some people are overwhelmed by the misguided perception that they have a major, undiagnosed health issue. 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:
Hypochondria occurs 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:
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:
Preparing for your appointment
You may start by seeing your primary health care provider. Or, you may go directly to a mental health provider on your own. But if you're like most people with hypochondria, you have a hard time believing that your symptoms and health anxiety could be psychological in nature. But try to keep an open mind and understand that if multiple doctors can't find an underlying health problem, then you may indeed have hypochondria.
What you can do
In addition to your prepared questions, don't hesitate to ask questions at any time during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
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:
Diagnostic criteria for hypochondria
Symptom criteria required for a diagnosis of hypochondria include:
Treatments and drugs
Treatment for hypochondria can include psychological counseling, education and medications.
Lifestyle and home remedies
In most cases, hypochondria won't get better if you try to treat it on your own. But you can do some things for yourself that will build on professional treatment:
Coping and support
Your hypochondria may never completely go away, but you can learn how to cope with your health anxiety so that it doesn't disrupt your life.
Consider these coping measures:
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.
Last Updated: 2010-11-23
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