Hypochondria is a psychological disorder. In it, a person has real or imagined minor physical symptoms. The person believes that these symptoms are a sign of serious illness. Even when several doctors assure the person otherwise, a hypochondriac is convinced that he or she has a serious disease.
The cause is unknown.
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Risk factors for hypochondria include:
- Family history of hypochondria
- Psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, or personality disorder
- Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse in childhood
- Witnessing violence in childhood
- Stressful experience with your own or a loved one's illness
Symptoms include :
- Chronic fear of serious illness
- Chronic fear that minor symptoms are signs of a serious illness
- Multiple physical complaints that often change over time
- The disorder:
- Lasts at least 6 months
- Causes major distress
- Interferes with social life or work
- You may :
- Make many doctor visits, sometimes in the same day
- Seek repeated tests for the same symptoms
- Repeatedly research information about specific illnesses and their symptoms
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. If the exam shows no disease, your doctor may begin to suspect hypochondria. If further testing also fails to uncover a known medical condition, your doctor may diagnosis you with hypochondria if:
- Your fear of illness lasts for at least 6 months, and
- No other psychological disorder is causing your fear
Effective treatment involves consistent, supportive care from one doctor, often in consultation with a mental health professional.
You may feel overwhelmed by your symptoms. They may even seem to control your life. Schedule frequent visits, regardless of symptoms, with one doctor you can trust. Expect your doctor to:
- Validate your distress
- Be supportive
- Direct your attention away from symptoms, and focus it on functioning in daily life
- Discourage a sense of dependency and disability
- Recommend psychiatric counseling
Psychotherapy tends to be helpful only for people who suffer from other psychiatric disorders associated with hypochondria. Sometimes these disorders can be treated with medications, such as antidepressants. Cognitive-behavioral therapy may be helpful as well.
Finding a health care provider who is willing to "listen more and do less" is key to recovery.
There are no guidelines for prevention, because the cause is not known.