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Hypochondria: causes, symptoms and treatments

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Hypochondria: causes, symptoms and treatments
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In general, hypochondria is a constant and irrational belief that you are ill.  This can derive from wrongly interpreted physical symptoms.  Over a long period of time, this negative state of mind can be extremely harmful for a person suffering from hypochondria.  A person must be in this persistent state for at least six months for them to be diagnosed as a hypochondriac.  If a person suffers from this mental state they need to make changes to their habitual behaviour.  In this article we’ll look at the causes, symptoms and treatments of hypochondriacs. 

Causes of hypochondria

Hypochondria can often appear in response to a traumatic event experienced by the patient.  These events can be different depending on the person.  However it is the way the person interprets their their experiences which important.  However some triggering events can be recurrent.  Some traumatic events can include:

  • The death of a parent, friend or relative due to an illness;
  • When spots, rashes or marks appear on the patients body;
  • When you are raised by anxious parents.

It is important to remember that with more websites dedicated to health care it is easy to think that you are ill.  With just a couple of clicks here and a key word there you can learn all about many illnesses.

According to an IFOP study, 13% of French people are affected by hypochondria. According to the UK Office of National Statistics (ONS) women are more likely to report ill health than men, but are less likely to die from bad health.

Woman sitting alone and depressed
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When can hypochondria symptoms appear?

In some sort of way the person affected imprisons themselves inside their thoughts.  They think that they are ill even if medical exams prove that there is no illness.  The important thing to remember is that a person who is a hypochondriac really is ill.  They feel the illness inside them even if it doesn’t have tangible or visible marks.  These people are suffering. That is why it is not a good solution to tell them that they are not ill.

Hypochondriac problems or an excessive “health anxiety” can appear under two forms according to the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders version 5):

  • The type that asks for care:  The person frequently organises medical visits, health exams and other types of health care.  They wait for the attention from the medical profession, even if they don’t recognize their own hypochondria.
  • The type that avoids care: Medical care is rarely organised and used by the person.  What the person looks for is support and someone to listen to their worries.

However according to the DSM-5, it is necessary to take certain information into account so as to rule out the fact that a patient suffers from an “excessive fear of having a disease”.

People with hypochondria are extremely anxious when it comes to the subject of their health.  They regularly examine their body to check for signs of an illness, marks or an infection which could have arisen since they last looked. However with the second type they can think that they are ill without ever looking for medical verification.

For these people they have been concerned about their health for at least 6 months, however, the subject of their obsession (their so called disease) may be different. This means that in a short space of time they may be afraid of having cancer, then a skin disease, etc
Finally, the patient’s state must not be explained by any other mental or physical illness (although they may nevertheless coexist) such as:

  • Panic attacks;
  • General anxiety;
  • Obsession with body dysmorphism;
  • OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder)
  • Delusional disorders;
  • Somatic disease in its own righte.
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Possible treatments

Nervous or anxious hypochondriacs can be treated.  Check ups from mental health professionals are needed.  Nevertheless a third of all people will stay in this hypochondriac zone their whole life.

Different methods can be used to help patients that are suffering:

  • Psychoanalysis or a type of psychoanalytic therapy:  During these therapies the medial professional and the patient look at periods often way back in the life of the patient.  Thanks to these paths, they can together try and understand why the event that caused the hypochondria was so traumatising.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: Quicker than the first method and structured in a different way.  Both the professional and patient will try and analyse in what ways the person’s behaviour has been changed by the illness and then will try and alter the problematic or disabling behaviours.

Hypochondriac difficulties which are associated with anxiety could require medical treatments.  However medication is not always necessary.  However physical or psychic support can often replace an anxiolytic.

The NHS gives some helpful advice about how to manage your hypochondria:

  • Keep a journal which can help you note down any of the times you look for marks on your body, then you can ask a third person so as to reduce the regularity of our  verifications.
  • Make a table of worries about you health and note down the problem on one side and the possible explanation on the other (I have a sore head.  It could be due to stress.)
  • When you want to check whether you have any marks distract yourself with something else like sport, walking, drawing or any other activity;
  • Try to pick up activities that you stopped due to your health fears;
  • Try to relax as much as you can when you become anxious or when you want to check if you are ill. .

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