Hypochondria

Hypochondria

Also called: Hypochondriasis, Hypochondriacal Paranoia

Summary

Hypochondria (hypochondriasis) is a somatoform disorder in which a person fears that real or imagined physical or mental symptoms indicate the presence of a serious underlying illness. These anxieties usually persist despite medical evidence to the contrary.

Patients with hypochondria often become obsessed with worry over bodily functions, minor physical abnormalities or vague physical sensations. In some cases, symptoms associated with hypochondria may indicate the presence of a genuine illness. However, a patient with hypochondria has fears about the illness that are out of proportion with the actual health threat present.

Hypochondria is a fairly common disorder that often first appears during a patient’s 20s or 30s. In most cases, symptoms associated with hypochondria wax and wane over a patient’s lifetime. This disorder can have an extremely disruptive effect on a patient’s work and social life.

A physician will not diagnose hypochondria until all other potential causes of a patient’s symptoms have been ruled out. The physician will perform a complete medical examination and compile a thorough medical history in addition to asking the patient to describe the nature, intensity, frequency and duration of symptoms.

A patient may be referred to a mental health professional if it is believed that another underlying mental health disorder is responsible for their symptoms. Treatment focuses on informing patients that no underlying disease is present while helping them to understand that their fears of disease are groundless. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help patients to reduce anxiety levels, which can lead to a corresponding reduction of symptoms.

About hypochondria

Hypochondria (hypochondriasis) is a somatoform disorder in which a person believes that minor, usually harmless symptoms are indicators of a more serious underlying illness. For example, patients with occasional heart palpitations may believe they have a serious heart disease, whereas patients who find a previously undiscovered mole may leap to the conclusion that they have skin cancer. The suspected disease produces great fear in the patient. Between 1 and 5 percent of the population has hypochondria, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

In many cases of hypochondria, physical symptoms are harmless and do not indicate an actual illness. In other cases, the symptoms may indeed indicate the presence of an actual underlying illness. However, patients with hypochondria exaggerate the seriousness of the condition, which is a source of great anxiety. Patients may persist in their pessimistic outlook about their symptoms even after several physicians or other medical professionals assure them that their condition is harmless.

Hypochondria may be confused with other disorders. Malingering refers to falsifying symptoms for personal gain, such as to avoid work or school. Munchausen syndrome refers to a condition in which people fake or induce symptoms because they want to be seen as sick. Although their symptoms may be imaginary, people with hypochondria do not intentionally falsify their symptoms and are disproportionately fearful about the cause of symptoms.

Hypochondria is a fairly common disorder that often first appears during a patient’s 20s or 30s and peaks between the ages of 30 and 40. It tends to occur equally in men and women. In most cases, symptoms associated with hypochondria wax and wane over a patient’s lifetime. This disorder can have an extremely disruptive effect on a patient’s work and social life because fear of disease can cause significant anxiety and alter life plans.

In children, phantom  pains and complaints are considered normal and will not usually be identified as hypochondria, unless the symptoms and fears continue for a prolonged period of time. Elderly patients also frequently become preoccupied with aches and pains. However, this is occasionally a common part of the aging process or may more likely be associated with a mood disorder (e.g., depression) than hypochondria.

The exact cause of hypochondria is unknown. Serious illness – particularly during childhood – or experience with the serious illness of a loved one are often associated with hypochondria. Many patients display a fear of aging and death, and the death of someone close to the individual is one of the major psychosocial stressors associated with the onset of hypochondria.

Hypochondria may also occur with certain anxiety disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and with mood disorders such as major depression.

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