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Hypochondria

When you have hypochondria, you become obsessed with the idea that you have a serious or life-threatening disease that hasn't been diagnosed yet. This causes significant anxiety that goes on for months or longer, even though there's no clear medical evidence that you have a serious health problem. Hypochondria is also called hypochondriasis.

While having some anxiety about your health is normal, full-blown hypochondria is so consuming that it causes problems with work, relationships or other areas of your life. Severe hypochondria can be completely disabling.

Although hypochondria is a long-term condition, you don't have to live your life constantly worrying about your health. Treatment such as psychological counseling, medications or simply learning about hypochondria may help ease your worries.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Hypochondria symptoms include:

  • Having a long-term intense fear or anxiety about having a serious disease or health condition
  • Worrying that minor symptoms or bodily sensations mean you have a serious illness
  • Seeing doctors repeated times or having involved medical exams such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), echocardiograms or exploratory surgery
  • Frequently switching doctors — if one doctor tells you that you aren't sick, you may not believe it and seek out other opinions
  • Continuously talking about your symptoms or suspected diseases with family and friends
  • Obsessively doing health research
  • Frequently checking your body for problems, such as lumps or sores
  • Frequently checking your vital signs, such as pulse or blood pressure
  • Thinking you have a disease after reading or hearing about it

Hypochondria vs. normal worries

Not everyone who worries about health problems has hypochondria. Having symptoms caused by something you and your doctor can't identify clearly can cause anxiety. In some cases, a second opinion or further tests may be in order.

However, if you start to search for ailments that seem to match your symptoms, chances are you'll find something. Minor ailments often share symptoms with more-serious disorders. It's become easier to search out health information on the Internet in recent years. Having easy access to information about every possible thing that could be wrong can fuel your anxiety.

There's nothing wrong with informing yourself. Being an active participant in your own health is an important part of staying well. However, you may be crossing the line into hypochondria if you're consumed by the idea that something is seriously wrong even though you've had appropriate tests and reassurance from your doctor that everything's OK.

When to see a doctor

If you have signs and symptoms of hypochondria, consider talking to a mental health provider such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or licensed counselor. You may decide to take the step yourself or a family member may suggest that you seek help. At some point, a doctor, nurse or other health care professional may suggest that you visit a mental health provider.

It may seem to make no sense to visit a mental health provider when you're certain that you have a medical disease. But try to keep an open mind. Be willing to consider the possibility that your worries are based on your emotions rather than fact. Listen to the opinions of your family members and friends.

Even if you don't have all of the symptoms of hypochondria, it's not a bad idea to talk to a mental health provider about your health worries. Hypochondria or not, ongoing worries about your health can make you miserable. Seeing a mental health provider for health anxiety may help.

Helping a loved one

If you have a loved one with signs and symptoms of hypochondria, have an open and honest discussion about your concerns and the things you've noticed. You may not be able to force someone to seek help for a mental health problem, but you can offer encouragement and support. You can also help your loved one find a qualified doctor or mental health provider and make an appointment. Offer to go to an appointment with him or her.

It's not clear why some people are overwhelmed by the misguided perception that they have a major, undiagnosed health issue. It's thought that personality, life experiences, upbringing and inherited traits may all play a role.

There are similarities between hypochondria and anxiety disorders such as panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Factors that may increase your risk of developing hypochondria include:

  • Having a serious illness during childhood
  • Knowing family members or others with a serious disease
  • The death of a loved one
  • Having an anxiety disorder
  • Believing good health means that you are free of all physical symptoms or unusual bodily sensations
  • Having close family members with hypochondria
  • Feeling especially vulnerable to illness or disease
  • Having parents who were neglectful or abusive

Hypochondria occurs about equally in men and women. It can develop at any age, even in children, but it most often starts in early adulthood.

Complications of hypochondria can include:

  • Health risks associated with unnecessary medical procedures
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Excessive anger and frustration
  • Substance abuse

Hypochondria can be overwhelming and disabling. You may become so obsessed with finding a cause for your physical symptoms that it affects your daily life. You may frequently miss work or school. Your health may be all that you can think about or talk about, which can frustrate family and friends. Common problems linked to hypochondria include:

  • Work or school problems
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Strained relationships with your health providers
  • Financial problems related to medical costs

There's no sure way to prevent hypochondria. Get help as soon as possible if ongoing concerns about your health are getting worse, are making you unhappy or are causing problems. Addressing hypochondria early can reduce its impact on your life.

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