Are you constantly afraid that you have a serious illness? Worried that a headache could be the harbinger of a brain tumor, or that a sunspot could be sun cancer? Although these things may seem crazy to some, to patients with hypochondria, these anxieties can be all too real. In this article, we will talk about what hypochondria is. We will also discuss what statistics can tell us about this mental illness. Lastly, we will help you to be able to recognize hypochondria symptoms, and let you know how you can support patients who may be diagnosed with the disorder.
What is Hypochondria?
Hypochondria is the constant fear of serious disease. Up to 20% of the general population suffers from hypochondria. For these patients, going to the doctor or other medical professional, receiving tests, and being worried about their health is typical. They may seek attention from others, like friends and family, due to their perceived illnesses. Various groups are, according to statistics, more at risk for developing hypochondria. This includes patients with a history of schizophrenia, depression, or other mental illnesses. Those who were sexually abused as children are also at higher risk. It seems that this disease normally skews toward a greater number of women, as well as a greater number of wealthier patients. Substance abuse seems to also be more prevalent among those diagnosed.
What It Means for Patients
What does having hypochondria mean for the typical patient? For most, it means a crippling fear of “symptoms,” as trivial as sensations. These patients may often complain of imaginary symptoms, such as headaches, pain, racing heartbeat, bloating, or other very vague symptoms. Worrying about these things can lead to anxiety and stress, which can lead to other (real life) medical issues. Studies show that these patients are more likely to switch doctors, to spend lots of time doing health research, and are not very likely to seek mental health help. Unless mental help is sought, the disease will continue for the life of the patient.
What It Means for Doctors
Hypochondria can be a real issue for doctors. Why? Patients with hypochondria, as mentioned above, often switch doctors. They also often ask for tests to be repeated, undergo more invasive tests, and request unnecessary medical procedures. It is estimated that these patients can spend around $20 billion per year on unneeded tests, medicines, etc. Litigation from patients may make doctors feel as if they have to do what patients wish, or suffer the consequences. Medical doctors may have a difficult time diagnosing these patients, as well as prescribing them medicine.
What It Means for Society
It is typical for almost everyone to experience some worry or anxiety about their health at some point in their lives. Today, medical research is much easier than in the past with the advent of online resources. Tools such as these can be great in helping patients manage their health. However, the availability of medical information on the web may have actually made the problem worse for some. It seems that you can now misdiagnose yourself with the click of a button. There is no doubt that, in some way, some websites can actually help to fuel anxiety about possible health conditions. This is why you must consult your doctor if you are truly worried about your own health, and not just a webpage.
Symptoms of Hypochondria
What are the symptoms to be on the lookout for? Here are just a few:
1. A serious fear of having an illness, sickness, disease, or health condition.
2. Mistaking simple sensations or regular health complaints as more serious health symptoms or issues.
3. Lots of invasive and unneeded medical tests on a regular basis.
4. Frequently switching from one medical care provider to another.
5. Checking yourself for signs of illnesses or issues almost obsessively.
6. Spending hours and hours doing medical research on diseases the person most likely does not have.
7. Telling others about suspected health issues and symptoms on a regular basis in order to gain attention.
8. Being convinced that you have a certain health condition after you simply read or hear about it elsewhere.
Supporting Those with Hypochondria
There is no one specific treatment for hypochondria. The best bet is to seek help from a mental health professional. Or, if your doctor refers you to one, be sure to go. Just know that these people are here to help. For many with hypochondria, seeking help from a mental health professional is really eye opening and helpful. If one of your loved ones seems to have hypochondria, or you suspect they might, simply have a conversation with them about it. You can suggest that they seek help from a psychologist or counselor. Just be aware that everyone will not take this advice.