The Medical Side of Hypochondria

By: Red Hot Mamas

Published: May 26, 2010

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Hypochondria is a medical disorder where the sufferers believe they are experiencing a medical illness. They believe the symptoms they have are all attributed to medical ailments. Their fears are out of proportion with the illness and are based on symptoms that are non-existent.

Hypochondriacs attribute pain to major illness and believe the worst will happen to them. They oftentimes make recurrent visits with doctors, use a disproportionate amount of medical services, i.e., lab tests, surgical procedures and the like. Many are concerned with their own death due to their condition. They spend much time worrying and discussing their symptoms that are usually non-existent. Or, they make up conditions. Doctors are guilty of this too! Some doctors are eager to find, or invent new illnesses for us. New diseases usually get published in research journals or in the news if they are especially scary or seem interesting. Some are truly bizarre:

  • Hairdresser’s Nipple- inflammation caused by the stubble burrowing into the nipple
  • Telephone Stroke- holding a receiver twixt head and shoulder can block bloodflow
  • Waterskier’s Enema- When women fall bottom first into water at high speed
  • Information Fatigue Syndrome- Confusion caused by excess media

These over exaggerated diseases can sometimes lead to more serious conditions. For hypochondriacs, the nocebo effect can even emerge; the opposite of the placebo effect. Since hypochondria makes people worry about illness so much, a nocebo doesn’t make you better because you won’t believe you will. In a recent 5,000 women study reported in the Journal oif the American medical Association, researchers found women who believe they are prone to heart disease are nearly four times as likely to die as women with similar risk factors who don’t share such negative views. Another example was reported in the same journal with heart patients who were warned about the possible side effects of aspirin use. The study found that if you warn people about the possible side effects, the number who suffer them increases.

According to experts, the prevalence of hypochondria ranges from 4 percent to 7 percent in the general population, affecting both men and women equally. Hypochondriasis is regarded as a psychiatric disorder, however, most hypochondriacs never visit a mental health care professional or psychiatrist for treatment.

Do you have Hypochondria?

Take the Whitley Index Test. It is the standard self-test for hypochondria. Circle the number that best describes how you feel:

1=Not at all
2=A little
3=Moderately
4=Quite a bit
5=A great deal

  1. Do you worry a lot about your health?
    1 2 3 4 5
  2. Do you think there is something seriously wrong with your body?
    1 2 3 4 5
  3. Is it hard for you to forget about yourself and to think about all sorts of other things?
    1 2 3 4 5
  4. If you feel ill and someone says you are looking better, do you get annoyed?
    1 2 3 4 5
  5. Do you find that you are often aware of various things happening in your body?
    1 2 3 4 5
  6. Are you bothered by many aches and pains?
    1 2 3 4 5
  7. Are you afraid of illness?
    1 2 3 4 5
  8. Do you worry about your health more than most people?
    1 2 3 4 5
  9. Do you get the feeling that people are not taking your illnesses seriously?
    1 2 3 4 5
  10. Is it hard to believe your doctor when he says there is nothing to worry about?
    1 2 3 4 5
  11. Do you often worry about the possibility that you have a serious illness?
    1 2 3 4 5
  12. If a disease is brought to your attention, do you worry about getting it yourself?
    1 2 3 4 5
  13. Are you bothered by many different symptoms?
    1 2 3 4 5
  14. Do you often have the symptoms of a very serious illness?
    1 2 3 4 5

Add up the circled numbers. There are no definite parameters, but if you score above 32 you are generally considered a hypochondriac. If you score between 14 and 28, you are generally thought normal.

Even if you don’t score highly, never mind, you were concerned enough to complete the questionnaire — which must say something about your hypochondriac potential.

Treatment Strategies and Options for Hypocondriacs Include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy where patients attempt to alter their beliefs about illness and symptoms and seek to understand how their behaviors play a role in the disorder.
  • Pharmacotherapy or treatment with medications such as Prozac.

Many hypochondriacs have co-existing psychiatric illnesses such as major depression, panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Treatment of these underlying conditions has been shown to alleviate hypochondriacs. The majority of people who have hypochondriasis benefit significantly from pharmacological treatment. The good news about hypochondriasis is that is treatable.

If you feel you are a hypochondriac, seek help. And, if you are a family member or friend of someone experiencing hypochondria, encourage them to seek help. It is exceptionally difficult for friends and family if their loved one constantly complains about their health. Instead, talk to them about fun topics, and provide them with support to help reduce their concerns about their health which will ensure them of your feelings for them.

References:

Naish, John. “Help, I’ve got Hypochondria.” Times Online. Oct 30, 2004. Web. 14 June 2009 <website>.

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