Hypochondria is a health anxiety disorder. It is often chronic. A person with hypochondria is often very anxious about their health. A hypochondriac fears that a real or imagined minor physical symptom is a sign of serious illness. Even when several doctors assure them otherwise, a hypochondriac is convinced that they have a serious disease. Psychiatric counseling and medications can relieve some, if not all, of the
and suffering. Left untreated, hypochondria can be debilitating and affect daily function.
It is often difficult to identify a specific cause for hypochondria.
Factors that may increase your risk for getting hypochondria include: Family history of hypochondriaHaving a serious childhood illness
Psychiatric disorders such as
anxiety, or personality disorder
Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse in childhoodObserving violence in childhoodStressful experience with your own or a loved one's illnessHistory of personal traumatic experience
Chemical imbalances and traumatic life experiences may contribute to the development of hypochondria.
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Symptoms include: Chronic fear of serious illnessChronic fear that minor symptoms are signs of a serious illnessMany physical complaints that often change over time
Lasts at least six monthsCauses major distressInterferes with social life or work
Check yourself frequentlyMake many doctor visits, sometimes in the same daySeek repeated tests for the same symptomsRepeatedly research information about specific illnesses and their symptomChange healthcare providers frequentlyTry multiple herbal remedies or other alternative treatments
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. If the exam shows no disease, your doctor may begin to suspect hypochondria. If further testing also fails to uncover a known medical condition, your doctor may diagnosis you with hypochondria if: Your fear of illness lasts for at least six months and does not improve with reassurance and negative testingNo other psychological disorder is causing your fear
Effective treatment involves consistent, supportive care from one doctor, often along with a mental health professional. Finding a healthcare provider who is willing to listen to your concerns, provide support, and avoid needless testing is key to recovery.
You may feel overwhelmed by your symptoms. They may even seem to control your life. Schedule frequent visits, regardless of symptoms, with one doctor you can trust. Expect your doctor to: Validate your distressBe supportiveDirect your attention away from symptoms and focus it on functioning in daily lifeDiscourage a sense of dependency and disabilityRecommend psychiatric counseling and educational therapy
Psychotherapy such as
cognitive behavior therapy
and behavioral stress management can be effective in treating hypochondria. This involves regular counseling with a psychotherapist to recognize false beliefs, understand anxiety, and stop anxious behaviors.
Antidepressant medicines (such as
serotonin reuptake inhibitors, tricyclics antidepressants) may help relieve the symptoms of hypochondria, but there is limited proof.
There are no guidelines to prevent hypochondria because the cause is not known.
Last reviewed November 2012 by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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