Hypochondria is a psychological disorder. It is often chronic, and a person with hypochondria is often very anxious about his health. A hypochondriac fears that a real or imagined minor physical symptom is a sign of serious illness. Even when several doctors assure her otherwise, a hypochondriac is convinced that she has a serious disease. Psychiatric counseling and medications can relieve some, if not all, of the
and suffering. But left untreated, hypochondria can be debilitating and affect daily function.
It is often difficult to identify a specific cause. Often a childhood or prior serious illness, or illness of a loved one can lead to hypochondria.
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Risk factors for hypochondria include:
Family history of hypochondria
Psychiatric disorders such as
anxiety, or personality disorder
Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse in childhood
Witnessing violence in childhood
Stressful experience with your own or a loved one's illness
Chronic fear that minor symptoms are signs of a serious illness
Multiple physical complaints that often change over time
Lasts at least six months
Causes major distress
Interferes with social life or work
Make many doctor visits, sometimes in the same day
Seek repeated tests for the same symptoms
Repeatedly research information about specific illnesses and their symptoms
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. 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
No other psychological disorder is causing your fear
Physician Relationship and Monitoring
Effective treatment involves consistent, supportive care from one doctor, often in consultation with a mental health professional. Finding a healthcare provider who is willing to listen to your concerns, provide assurance, and avoid unnecessary 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 distress
Direct your attention away from symptoms, and focus it on functioning in daily life
Discourage a sense of dependency and disability
Recommend psychiatric counseling
Research has shown that
cognitive behavior therapy
, behavioral stress management, or explanatory therapy can be effective in treating hypochondria. This involves regular counseling with a psychotherapist to recognize false beliefs, understand anxiety, and stop anxious behaviors.
Anti-depressant medication, such as
serotonin reuptake inhibitors
(SSRIs) or tricyclics (TCAs) may relieve the symptoms of hypochondria. A recent randomized control trial in the Netherlands showed paroxetine (as well as cognitive behavioral therapy) to be of short-term help in relieving symptoms, and other studies have shown fluoxetine (Prozac) to be helpful.
***Please note FDA Public Health Advisory for Antidepressants:
The FDA advises that people taking antidepressants should be closely observed. For some, the medications have been linked to worsening symptoms and suicidal thoughts. These adverse effects are most common in young adults. The effects tend to occur at the beginning of treatment or when there is an increase or decrease in the dose.
Although the warning is for all antidepressants, of most concern are the SSRI class such as:
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