Hypochondriasis :A Psychological Condition

Hypochondriasis :A Psychological Condition

Dr.Deva Kumar  A D profile Authored by Dr.Deva Kumar A D on 4 Mar 2015 - 16:52.

Hypochondriasis

Hypochondria (also called as hypochondriasis) is a psychological condition characterized by feelings of being affected by mysterious, severe and life threatening illness, when actually no such condition exists. This is a long term condition that may last for 6 months or more and causes anxiety and depression that ultimately alters one’s quality of life.

It is normal to be concerned of one’s health only to some extent, but when it occupies ones normal routine and day-to-day life, it is abnormal. It is quite common in people between 20 to 30 years. While this is a harmless disorder, work (profession) and/ or relationships may suffer. 

 

 

 

The exact cause of Hypochondria remains unknown, but it may be linked to life experiences, one’s attitude towards life, upbringing environment, inherited qualities and so on. In some cases, Hypochondria may arise as a secondary illness to generalized anxiety disorder or depression.  

Common symptoms of Hypochondria may include:

  • Long-term, sever anxiety about imaginary illness
  • Exaggerating the mild or imaginary symptoms and feeling the existence of serious health condition
  • Excessive worrying about minor health issues
  • Frequent doctor visits for unnecessary reasons
  • Forcing physician to conduct medical exams including imaging tests (MRI, CT scan, ultrasound, etc.), blood tests and other laboratory investigations
  • Not believing doctors and so changing doctors frequently
  • Continuously thinking about symptoms and suspected disorder
  • Frequently discussing exaggerated symptoms with friends and family
  • Frequently looking for the presence of any symptoms (instead of being healthy)
  • Investing lot of time in health research on internet
  • Assuming that the symptoms exist after reading any health article

When to see a doctor?

It is advised to visit a psychiatrist, psychologist or counsellor, if you notice the signs and symptoms of Hypochondria. Many minor and mild symptoms may indicate a severe condition, so getting a thorough diagnosis by experts helps to find out any underlying health condition. If the diagnosis is negative in all aspects and still the feeling of “being ill” persists, it is time to see the experts as soon as possible. 

 

 

Hypochondria shares many common symptoms with anxiety disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and may be tricky to diagnose. In case, doctors succeed inidentifying the underlying condition causing the symptoms, they will start the medical treatment to relieve symptoms. If expert suspects the hypochondria, he / she will consider the following tests and examinations to confirm the diagnosis.

  • Physical exam
  • Psychological assessment: on behavior pattern, feelings and thoughts over disease and symptoms, severity of symptoms, etc.
  • Blood test: 
  • Laboratory tests: for alcohol and drug abuse.
  • Thyroid function test: for abnormality in thyroid levels and functions.

 

 

Several factors may increase the risk of developing hypochondria. These may include

  • Suffering from any chronic illness in the past
  • Surrounded by family members or friends with severe illness
  • Death in the family/friends’ circle
  • Having any psychological illness
  • Living with a perception that healthy means “not having any unusual symptoms and sensations”
  • Considering oneself to be in a “high risk” category
  • Upbringing in neglectful or abusive environment
  • A family history with Hypochondria

Complications: Hypochondria may lead to following complications:

  • Psychological illnesses, including depression and anxiety disorder
  • Unnecessary surgery or other clinical procedures
  • Complications associated with medical procedures
  • Frustration
  • Unnecessary anger
  • Drug abuse
  • Decreased quality of work and overall quality of life
  • Strained relationships
  • Financial issues due to excessive health treatment costs

 

 

Ideal treatment for Hypochondria often includes multiple approaches. These may include:

Experts counselling: Licensed psychological experts may be reached out for primary treatment for hypochondria.

Psychotherapy:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): It helps to get over the feeling of having severe symptoms and associated anxiety.
  • Exposure therapy: It helps one to cope up with unusual symptoms and sensations by learning and practicing different skills.
  • Drugs and medications: Various drugs, including placebo (inert drug or dummy pill), antidepressant drugs (like fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, paroxetine, etc.) and some more drugs to treat any physical symptoms may be prescribed.

Lifestyle and home remedies: Along with the treatment, the following home remedies and some lifestyle interventions may help to address Hypochondria. These may include:

  • Sticking to treatment plan throughout, even if feeling well.
  • Gettingyourself educated about Hypochondria.
  • Keeping track on signs and symptoms experienced.
  • Keeping yourself involved in activities like exercise, sports, music, dance, etc. to avoid stress and anxiety.
  • Asking experts about suitable forms of exercise and ideal duration before making any choices.
  • Restricting alcohol consumption
  • Avoiding drugs
  • Constant touch with your health care provider
  • Talking frankly to friends, family members and doctors about your feelings.
  • Sticking to one’s experts advise and treatments
  • Avoiding excessive surfing about health
  • Joininga support group
  • Helping your loved ones with Hypochondria

Alternative treatments:

Herbs: Various herbs in the form of capsules, powders, teas, glycerites, or tinctures may be given.  Examples: St. John's wort, Kava kava (Piper methysticum), Bacopa (Bacopamonniera), etc. may be prescribed.

Homeopathy: These may include prescribing Aconitum, Arsenicum album,Lycopodium, Phosphorus, etc. Depending upon individuals overall health, experts will prescribe the most suitable drug dosage.

Acupuncture: This helps to overcome fear, emotional stress, symptoms, improves energy and normalizes sleep pattern.

Massage: This may help to reduce the symptoms of Hypochondria by relieving anxiety.

(Note: Do not take or practice any alternative medicine/ treatment on your own. Dr A D Deva Kumar recommends consulting the respective expert and proceeding with their opinion.)

Diet and nutrition recommendations:

  • Eat small meals in portions, but quite frequently
  • Test for allergy and avoid food allergens
  • Avoid refined and processed foods
  • Avoid red meat
  • Avoid coffee and tea
  • Eat rich sources of vitamin B and iron e.g. Spinach, kale, whole grains, etc.
  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables
  • Eat lean meat
  • Use olive oil
  • Drink lots of water and fluids

 

 

There is no any established preventive measure for Hypochondria but noticing its signs and symptoms early and starting the treatment immediately may help to prevent further worsening of the condition and complications associated with it. 

*Disclaimer This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.