Hypochondriasis, also known as hypochondria, is a type of somatic disorder best characterized by the belief that the patients have one or several serious medical conditions.
Hypochondriasis and Statistics
Many people within the United States focus on their health. When they become obsessive about maintaining their health, it potentially morphs into what we know as hypochondriasis.
According to statistics, as much as 9 percent of the population has experienced hypochondriasis in some way. Other statistics showed that as much as 1 percent to 14 percent of examined patients were found to have suffered from hypochondriasis.
From another study, 10 to 20 percent of healthy people were found to have experienced some form of hypochondriasis. In contrast, 45 percent of people without any type of major psychiatric disorder have some type of unfounded worry about contracting an illness (potentially hypochondriasis).
People with hypochondriasis do receive some form of medical treatment to manage their condition. In primary care settings, 0.8 percent to 4.5 percent of patients have hypochondriasis in some form. On an interesting note, 88 percent of those same patients have some type of concurrent disorder (one or more).
Out of those disorders, generalized anxiety disorder is the most common (71 percent), while dysthymic disorder (45.2 percent) and major depression (42.9 percent) were other common disorders. 21.4 percent of patients were found to have suffered from concurrent somatization disorders, while 16.7 percent were found to have suffered from concurrent panic disorder.
Both men and women actually experience hypochondriasis equally. The condition starts at any age, but it’s most likely to develop at early adulthood for most people. As for the prognosis, at least 1/3 of people with hypochondriasis experience a ‘significant improvement’ with their condition after getting treatment for the condition.
That doesn’t mean getting treatment hypochondriasis is always a positive affair for most people. According to statistics, hypochondriasis causes $20 billion in unnecessary medical examinations and procedures in the United States each year.
Patients with hypochondriasis often misinterpret physical symptoms as a sign off serious disease or other medical conditions. They typically keep believing that they suffer from a serious medical condition, despite their doctor’s regular reassurances.
Many patients with hypochondriasis are preoccupied with hypochondriasis, though they’re not considered delusional. Their preoccupations with their medical conditions typically cause occupational and social impairment. Some examples of hypochondriasis include:
1. When a patient sees a mark on their skin, convinced that it’s cancerous in nature.
2. When a patient hears or feels normal cardiac or digestive activity and assumes it represents the onset of a serious disorder or illness.
Many patients who have hypochondriasis often focus on their internal organs, as many of their concerns and fears originate out of assuming something’s wrong with their internal organs. Some are concerned with developing symptoms for serious medical conditions like heart disease or stomach cancer.
While many hypochondriasis patients do admit their fears get exaggerated in some aspects, they always remain persistent in their belief that they’re sick in some way. This often leads to many heading to several doctors, one after the other, to find one who will give them an official diagnosis for their condition.
On an interesting note, many hypochondriasis patients are found to ‘benefit’ from receiving attention from family, friends, colleagues and doctors, due to their condition. People with hypochondriasis are rarely unaware of receiving that type of attention, which would make hypochondriasis as some type of psychological or mental disorder. It isn’t, however, defined as one.
Despite that, hypochondriasis does have connections with many mental disorders, including depression and schizophrenia. The disorder is known to develop in people who experience traumatic events, causing the main symptoms to become more intense. Hypochondriasis typically occurs in episodes that last as short as months and as long as years on end.
The Symptoms of Hypochondriasis
Many of the signs and symptoms of hypochondriasis are physical complaints unattributed to any specific (or true) illness. In most cases, even thorough testing and medical attention can’t find the signs of an originating illness that presumably causes the patient’s alleged symptoms.
The condition, however, does have signs and symptoms that point to the patient having the condition in the first place:
1. The patient is preoccupied with an illness or fear of having an illness.
2. The patient holds persistent concerns about their health.
3. Thorough medical examinations and tests don’t reassure the patient of good health.
4. The patient may have depression or other mental disorder, such as schizophrenia or panic disorder.
5. The patient deliberately misses social events or work and exhibits impairment in those areas.
6. The patient seeks advice from many doctors to find one who will ‘diagnose’ their illness.
People are only diagnosed with hypochondriasis when all other possible conditions or disorders are ruled out as a source of their physical complaints about their health. That alone makes hypochondriasis a tricky disorder to treat, but it doesn’t stop a significant amount of Americans from developing the condition.