Hypochondria is a mental disorder that affects a person’s perception of their health. People dealing with hypochondria exhibit excessive fear of suffering from serious illnesses or diseases, despite having no or minor symptoms. These people tend to worry excessively about their health, often checking and rechecking their bodies for signs of illness. This anxiety disorder can have a significant impact on the individual’s personal and professional life, and counseling can be a helpful option in coping with the condition.
Signs and Symptoms of Hypochondria
While it is normal to worry about one’s health, the level and frequency of concern could be a sign of hypochondria. Here are some of the signs and symptoms of hypochondria:
- Excessive health-related anxiety
- Checking for symptoms repeatedly
- Ongoing health concerns with no relief
- Physical symptoms that are unrelated to any health condition
- Doubts about doctors’ diagnoses even after tests are clear
- Interference in personal and professional life due to health concerns
Causes of Hypochondria
The exact cause of hypochondria is unknown, but several factors contribute to its development. Some of the causes include:
- Genetic predisposition: Heredity plays a role in anxiety disorders, and so having a family history of hypochondria might increase one’s risk of developing it.
- Environmental factors: Trauma, particular medical conditions, or illnesses affecting people in the individual’s life could trigger hypochondria in a person. For example, losing someone to cancer can cause someone to obsessively worry about getting cancer as well.
- Anxiety and depression: People with anxiety or depression are more likely to develop hypochondria.
Diagnosis of Hypochondria
A qualified mental health specialist should evaluate a person with hypochondria. They will perform a complete medical and mental health evaluation of the patient. They will also look for any underlying medical conditions that could be the cause of the symptoms. The diagnostic criteria for hypochondria in the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-5 include:
|Diagnostic criteria for hypochondria|
|A preoccupation with having or acquiring a serious illness that persists for at least six months, despite having medical reassurance.|
|Excessive anxiety about one’s bodily health, disproportionate to the actual physical symptoms present.|
|Evidence of significant distress, impairment in social, occupational, or other areas of the individual’s functioning.|
Treatment for Hypochondria
Several approaches are useful in treating hypochondria. These include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): This type of therapy helps individuals understand their anxiety, reframe their thinking about health, and develop new, healthier patterns of behavior. A therapist will work with the patient to identify the fears associated with hypochondria and will help the person shift the focus from anxiety to more positive thinking.
- Mindfulness-based therapy: This approach helps a person become more aware of their thoughts and feelings, allowing them to recognize the triggers that can lead to health anxiety. This type of therapy teaches individuals to stay present, which can help to alleviate anxiety and create a sense of calm.
- Medication (SSRIs): Antidepressant medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors can help alleviate anxiety for some people. While medication can be effective in reducing anxiety symptoms, it should be used alongside therapy for better results.
Ways to Calm Hypochondria
Practice Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization, can help ease anxiety symptoms associated with hypochondria. These techniques allow individuals to focus on their body and thoughts, bringing attention to the present moment and helping to alleviate the anxiety associated with health worries.
Regular aerobic exercise is an important element in reducing anxiety and can help calm hypochondria. Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural mood elevators. The benefits of exercise are twofold, as physical activity also promotes physical wellness and reduces the risk of developing serious illnesses.
Limit Research on Illnesses Online
If you are constantly searching online for information about health conditions, it’s time to stop. This kind of behavior reinforces any anxiety one might have about having an illness, feeding the fears and making them seem more real. While gathering information about health issues can be beneficial, limit the time one spends online and stick to reliable sources.
Identify the Triggers That Cause Health Worries
Become aware of what is causing you to worry about your health. Are you watching a lot of news about illnesses and diseases? Do you have a family member with an illness that is causing concern? When one is aware of their triggers, they can create a plan to minimize or avoid them altogether, resulting in less anxiety and less health worry.
Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
A healthy lifestyle can help promote a sense of well-being and reduce symptoms of anxiety related to hypochondria. Eating nutritious meals, drinking plenty of water, and getting enough sleep can help the body maintain optimal health and help reduce anxiety symptoms.
Seek Support from Loved Ones
People with hypochondria may find it challenging to articulate their concerns with others, but speaking to loved ones can provide comfort and support to help individuals better understand their health anxiety. They can help you challenge your fears and reinforce the reality of your health situation, which can help to alleviate anxiety symptoms and calm hypochondria.
While it is normal to worry about one’s health, hypochondria is a condition that can significantly impact an individual’s personal and professional life. Understanding the signs and symptoms, causes, and treatment options for hypochondria can help individuals overcome their health anxiety and live a fuller, happier life.
Q. What is Hypochondria, and how is it diagnosed?
A. Hypochondria is a mental disorder where individuals have excessive fear of suffering from serious illnesses or diseases, despite having no or minor symptoms. A qualified mental health specialist should evaluate a person with hypochondria, perform a complete medical and mental health evaluation of the patient, and look for any underlying medical conditions that could be the cause of the symptoms. Diagnostic criteria for hypochondria in the current edition of the DSM-5 include excessive anxiety about one’s bodily health, a preoccupation with having or acquiring a serious illness that persists for at least six months, and evidence of significant distress, impairment in social, occupational, or other areas of the individual’s functioning.
Q. Can hypochondria be treated?
A. Yes, several approaches are useful in treating hypochondria, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness-based therapy, and medication (SSRIs). A combination of approaches is often most effective.
Q. What are the signs and symptoms of hypochondria?
A. The signs and symptoms of hypochondria include excessive health-related anxiety, checking for symptoms repeatedly, ongoing health concerns, physical symptoms unrelated to any physical health conditions, doubts about doctors’ diagnoses, and interference in personal and professional life due to health concerns.
Q. Can exercise help calm hypochondria?
A. Yes, regular aerobic exercise can help reduce anxiety and calm hypochondria.
Q. What should I do if I notice symptoms of hypochondria?
A. It’s essential to speak to a qualified mental health specialist if you notice any symptoms of hypochondria. They can provide a thorough evaluation and recommend an appropriate treatment plan to help you manage your symptoms.
- Berger, C., & Bullock, W. A. (2015). The relationship among health anxiety, health-related behaviors, and health status. Journal of Health Psychology, 20(6), 741–751. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105315573442
- Barsky, A. J., & Klerman, G. L. (1983). Overview: Hypochondriasis, bodily complaints, and somatic styles. American Journal of Psychiatry, 140(2), 273–283. https://doi.org/10.1176/ajp.140.2.273
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.