Did you know that there is a type of anxiety that causes a person to have serious fear of having an illness even if there is nothing wrong about them physically? It is normal for people to worry about getting sick, but for a hypochondriac, this worry is excessive, persistent, and can be debilitating.
What are the symptoms?
A person with hypochondria might focus on a particular illness, organ, or they could also fear various diseases. Symptoms exhibited include obsessive behavior such as talking excessively about an illness to family and friends, excessive worrying that he/she has an illness despite being cleared by doctors, regularly visiting the doctor because of minor abnormalities and even normal function like sweating or fast heartbeat, keen avoidance of places or food or activities that are associated with health risks, and expending a lot of energy learning about the disease/s.
In some cases, a hypochondriac might avoid going to the doctor for fear that they will be diagnosed with a serious illness like cancer. If these symptoms recur in six months or more, the person should be convinced to get help from a psychiatrist.
What triggers hypochondria?
The cause of hypochondria may be a result of a combination of different factors, just like any other anxiety disorder. A family history of the illness can influence a person’s outlook on body and health, as well as personal experiences of having survived or recently diagnosed with an illness. It can also be triggered by a near-death experience despite having been cleared by several doctors or it could start at a young age as a misunderstanding of how the body works.
In some cases, hypochondria is a result of a major life stress, a history of childhood illness or history of child abuse. Most patients who are diagnosed with hypochondria are also most likely to suffer from other psychiatric illnesses such as generalized anxiety disorder, major depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Can it be treated?
Although some patients with the disorder have been diagnosed with the illness they fear, sometimes the symptoms are mild and treatable. Treatment therefore should not address the illness they fear but the person’s psychological reaction. Treatment begins with the recognition of a family member or a loved one that the person needs professional help. This is to help the person keep functioning normally at work or school, home, and community; to ease the distress felt by the person; and to discourage the person from depleting the resources for the numerous hospital trips.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the most effective way to address the problem, preferably with a doctor that the person knows and trusts. That’s because mistrust with other doctors who have previously cleared the patient of the real or imaginary disease can also be a factor during the treatment. Medication might not be necessary if the person does not suffer from other psychiatric illness.