Hypochondriasis is a chronic mental disorder in which one continuously fears of having an undiagnosed serious or life threatening disease. Hypochondriasis is considered to be a psychosomatic illness, meaning it is a mental illness but presents with physical symptoms. Individuals who have Hypochondriacs tend to believe that their body feelings or any vague symptom is a sign of underlying medical disease. For example one may have itching on the skin and immediately think that this is a skin cancer. Many people become so convinced that they have ominous symptoms that they continually seek doctor after doctor. Despite assurance, the same pattern of behavior beings with another symptom.
Features of individuals with Hypochondriasis:
- Excess anxiety about certain symptoms or disease;
- Worry that every symptom is a sign of a serious illness;
- Seek repeated medical tests and physician consults;
- Frequently doctor shop;
- Have distress that can be hysterical at times;
- Always checking out their body for signs and symptoms of a disease;
- Never reassured by the doctor; and
- Immediately after reading about an illness, they feel as if they have it.
The cause of Hypochondriasis is unknown but some experts feel that it may be a type of obsessive compulsive disorder. Factors that may increase risk of developing hypochondria may include:
-Having had a serious illness in childhood;
-Having a family member with a serious medical disorder;
-Having a diagnosis of anxiety or OCD;
-An inflexible conviction that good health means having no symptoms; and
-Having family members with Hypochondriasis.
Hypochondriasis tends to occur equally in both genders and can develop at any age. However, most people are identified in adulthood and it is believed that at least 5 to 12 percent of the population are Hypochondriasis.
Hypochondriasis is not life threatening but can lead to difficulty at work or school, having difficulty with interpersonal relationships, depression, anxiety, anger, frustration and financial problems due to increasing medical expenses.
Some individuals are besieged by the symptoms and become disabled.