One of my closest friends married her college sweetheart who was attending medical school. One summer, she revealed several stories about her husband and how he thought we had a different disease every week.
One week, he came home from rounds and he thought he had a brain tumor. The next week he thought he had gallstones. Needless to say, this continued for 12 straight weeks. She kept reaffirming to her husband that it was all in his head.
What her husband suffered from is called medical students' disease. This is a form of hypochondriasis or hypochondria suffered by students while they are attending medical school.
Many medical students suffer from this condition. What happens is the students are so engrossed in their studies, along with being stressed out, they start to think they are experiencing the diseases they are studying. Their experiences become psychosomatic.
In another personal instance, while I was driving my dad to chemotherapy, he would get physically sick in the car. The stress from my father’s illness and his thoughts about his upcoming chemotherapy treatment would cause him to develop the symptoms of chemotherapy treatment. Granted my father was not reading a medical text book or conducting rounds at a hospital but the mind is a powerful thing.
According to the United States National Library of Medicine, the following are symptoms of hypochondriasis:
· People with hypochondria often examine their own body.
· People with hypochondria are unable to control their fears and worries.
· Symptoms may shift and change, and are often vague.
· They often believe any symptom or sensation is a sign of a serious illness.
· They feel better for a short time at most, and then begin to worry about the same symptoms, or about new symptoms.
· They seek out reassurance from family, friends, or health care providers on a regular basis.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), ʺstress and anxiety may make the symptoms of hypochondriasis worse. Hypochondriasis is a chronic illness (it persists for a long time), but getting early psychiatric treatment and having a strong motivation to change may increase the chances of getting better. Some reports suggest that one third to one half of patients improve over time, and one tenth recover completely.ʺ
It is important to be supportive of someone who has hypochondriasis. However, you do not want to enable them. Recommend regular visits to their health care provider. Also, make sure they are only being treated for this ailment by one health care provider. This will eliminate the unnecessary costs of too many medical tests.
Individuals with hypochondria may benefit from psychotherapy. The UMMC estimates between 75 – 85 percent of people who have hypochondriasis also have anxiety, depression, or another mental disorder.
Hypochondria - PubMed Health. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved December 15, 2011, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002216/
Hypochondriasis. University of Maryland Medical Center | Home. Retrieved December 15, 2011, from
Reviewed December 15, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith