Did You Know?
In severe cases, the patient starts fearing the doctor when the doctor has identified indications of hypochondriasis in the patient. The sufferer may start avoiding his physician, if he doesn't diagnose an illness as serious as the patient assumed. This may lead the affected individual to even change doctors in his pursuit of medical consensus to his diagnostic assumptions.
It is good to be concerned about your health to a certain extent. However, giving your nerves a tough time by constantly worrying over small health issues is unhealthy! When anxiety over one's health becomes a habit and borders on panic, it springs a mental disorder, Hypochondria. Also known as Hypochondriasis, this disorder is characterized by obsessive preoccupation with serious illnesses and severe, habitual anxiety over the possibility of contacting one and adversely affects the mental health of the person suffering from it. Symptoms of this disorder may range from exaggerating symptoms of slight ailments to epic proportions, imagining oneself to be sick all the time, to taking excessive, mostly unnecessary, medication to prevent illnesses.
- Do you know anyone who is constantly on the lookout for running to a doctor for a reason as simple as a running nose? I mean, for a purely professional reason and not because he/she has a crush on the doc! Jokes apart, recurrent visits to the doctor for trivial or imagined health issues is one of the prominent symptoms of hypochondria. A hypochondriac's overwhelming fear of a particular illness drives him to fear the worst.
- A hypochondriac is always doubtful whenever the doctor diagnoses a simple and easily curable medical condition. Say, for example, Mr. X is irrationally afraid of cancer. This guy gets a sore throat due to cold. A normal person would start with considering the simpler alternatives like a flu or bacterial infection of the throat and would probably pop some antibiotic. Even if he consults a doctor, he would be satisfied with whatever the doctor has prescribed and would proceed to take the medications accordingly. However, our hypochondriac friend may start assuming the cause of his sore throat to be throat cancer! If the doctor diagnoses otherwise, then Mr. X starts doubting his competency as a medical practitioner! Suspicions of a fatal illness are so deep-rooted in the psyche of hypochondriacs that no amount of dissuasion can convince them.
- Stubbornly holding on to his notions of perceived illness is another major symptom of hypochondria. In the above case of Mr. X, no matter how much (and how many!) doctors prescribe him antibiotics, he would not be pacified with anything short of chemotherapy! The conviction with which a hypochondriac believes in his perceived illness is unshakable, which makes overcoming hypochondria all the more challenging.
- Even if the person is in a completely healthy physical state, he constantly keeps worrying that he might get sick. This person is always in a constant state of terror and suffers immense mental anguish, thinking, "What if I get sick?", all the time. He/she limits her life by avoiding any activity or association which, as per that person, has any chance of making him/her sick. They can get paranoid even if a person, standing a yard away, sneezes. It does not alleviate their anxiety even if that sneeze is caused by a stray strand of hair brushing against the nostrils of the sneezer! Many sufferers of hypochondriasis are known to take medication despite being healthy, just as a precautionary measure.
- Hypochondriacs always like to stay abreast on information about diseases and medications. They have this obsessive need to know everything regarding their "most feared" disease, from cause, symptoms, prevention, cure, etc. In fact, they are so well-informed of their "chosen" disease and medication that if you listen to them talking about it, you would never, for a moment, suspect that they have not studied medicine officially.
- Even when suffering from some minor ailment, a hypochondriac is able to relate his actual symptoms to those of his imagined disease and can convince other people that the sneezing fits he gets during certain periods of the year is not due to the fact that he is allergic to pollen, but due to lowered immunity owing to HIV infection! So strong is his/her own conviction that other people start believing them.
What Triggers Hypochondria?
The reasons may vary. People who suffer from clinical anxiety may exhibit symptoms of hypochondria. People who have intensively researched medical conditions on the Internet may fall victim to this disorder owing to the information being superlative and related medicines and cures being advertised in such a way that the disease per se has been blown out of proportions. Media such as articles, TV shows and Internet often portray serious diseases as obscure, random and inevitable. Moreover, the portrayal of risk and identification of generic symptoms is often inaccurate. Pandemics, such as SARS, swine flu, etc. may trigger mass hypochondria. During childhood, witnessing a family member suffer from a serious or terminal illness may lead to hypochondria in children. They may believe that they, too, would end up sick like the relative or that they might have inherited it.
Treatment of Hypochondria
Professional counseling is the only way out. Even then, the patient's refusal to accept counter-reasoning for his condition often makes it difficult to treat hypochondria. However, latest scientific research has shown Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors to work as effective cures.
Although a psychological disorder, hypochondria can show physical manifestation in severe cases. The signs of pain and suffering imagined by the patient can actually start showing on his/her body. Other than this, the constant anxiety has long-term negative ramifications on the sufferer's life as the person is unable to participate in and concentrate on social and professional activities. Performance nose dives, taking self-confidence and self-esteem along with it. Therefore, it is necessary to be able to identify the health related anxiety symptoms early, so that it does not take over one's life.