Over the course of our lifetime most of us will have health concerns at some time or another. When these problems become apparent, we generally head to the doctors, are prescribed some medication, and before we know it we are back to normal. However, for people who suffer from hypochondria it is not quite so simple.
Hypochondriasis (or hypochondria as it is also called) occurs when people believe that they are suffering from an illness or ailment, but there is no medical evidence to support this. This belief can cause a significant amount of anxiety that can go on for months or even years.
Full-blown hypochondria is no laughing matter and can become so consuming that it interferes with work, relationships or other areas of life.
Symptoms of Hypochondria
The following lists details some of the signs of hypochondria:
- Intense fear or anxiety about having a serious disease or health condition;
- Extreme worry that a symptom or bodily sensation might mean you have a serious illness;
- Talking to your family and friends continuously about your suspected symptoms;
- Repeatedly seeing doctors and having involved physical assessments, diagnostic tests, or explorative surgery;
- Doctor Shopping – going from one doctor to another as they keep telling you are not sick;
- Obsessively checking your body for health concerns, such as lumps or sores;
- Checking your pulse or blood pressure frequently;
- Doing excessive health research;
- Thinking you have a disease after reading or hearing about it.
Currently we still do not know why some people experience hypochondria, however it is believed that personality, life experiences, upbringing and inherited traits may all play a role.
Hypochondria occurs equally in men and women. It can develop at any age, even in children, but it most often starts in early adulthood. Factors that might increase risk of hypochondria include:
- Having a serious illness as a child;
- Knowing family members or others with serious diseases;
- The death of loved ones;
- Having an anxiety disorder;
- Believing that you are only healthy if you have no unusual body sensations;
- Having family members with hypochondria;
- Feeling vulnerable to illness or disease;
- Having parents who were neglectful or abusive.
If left untreated, hypochondria can lead to problems such as:
- Health risks associated with unnecessary medical procedures;
- Anxiety disorders;
- Excessive anger and frustration;
- Substance abuse;
- Work or school problems;
- Relationship difficulties;
- Strained relationships with your health providers;
- Financial problems related to medical costs.
Treatment for Hypochondria
There are a number of treatment approaches available for individuals with hypochondriasis. These include psychological counselling, psychoeducation and medications.
- Psychological counselling: Psychological counselling is considered the first line treatment for hypochondriasis. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be one of the most effective forms of therapy for this condition. CBT aims to help people recognise and reduce behaviours associated with hypochondriasis, such as constantly monitoring your body for problems, or doctor shopping. Sometimes counselling may also include exposure therapy, in which fears are directly confronted in a safe environment and clients learn skills to cope with their uncomfortable sensations and anxiety.
- Education about hypochondriasis: Known as psychoeducation, this can help you and your family better understand what hypochondriasis is, why you have it and how to cope with this condition.
- Medications: Certain medications can be helpful in treating hypochondria, particularly if there are other psychological or physical conditions present.
Hypochondria can be overwhelming and disabling and is not something to be taken lightly. However, psychological treatment can help with this problem.
Author: Ashley Cooper, B Psych (Hons), M Psych (Clinical), MAPS.
Ashley Cooper is a registered psychologist with clinical psychology training, working with children, adolescents and adults. She is passionate about helping individuals to overcome their mental health issues and improve their quality of life.
To make an appointment with Ashley Cooper try Online Booking – Mt Gravatt or call (07) 3088 5422.