Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Illness Anxiety Disorder or Hypochondriasis

Have you ever met anyone who is generally bogged down by a deep concern over his health?He suspects he is suffering from a terrible--or not so terrible--disease.There is a grim look on his face as he goes around from one doctor to another and undergoes various investigations.Even when the results declare him to be totally fit,or at least not seriously ill,he is not satisfied;and the cycle is repeated again and again.

This tendency is known as Hypochondriasis.It is estimated that around 10% of all those who consult a general practitioner suffer from it.Drugs.com has defined it thus:-- 
 Hypochondriasis is a persistent fear of having a serious medical illness. A person with this disorder tends to interpret normal sensations, bodily functions and mild symptoms as a sign of an illness with a grim outcome. For example, a person may fear that the normal sounds of digestion, sweating or a mark on the skin may be a sign of a serious disease.
A hypochondriac lives in constant fear of deteriorating health.Doctors' assurances and negative test results may give temporary relief but before long he is again overcome by worries about his health.He consults many doctors and undergoes various investigations.He may even hunt for a doctor who will confirm his suspicion that he suffers from a  serious disease.There is a tendency to check his body for signs of disease like lesions,lumps or eruptions;and repeatedly check his B.P,pulse and blood sugar.He talks,only about his disease, symptoms and discomfort.The symptoms are vague and keep shifting,because there is no underlying disease.But he is not a malingerer.The discomfort he feels is very real.
This constant foreboding of suffering from a life threatening disease often causes mental disorders like Anxiety,Depression or O.C.D;which in turn,produce physical symptoms like headache,dizziness,nausea,insomnia,stomach discomfort,muscle tensions,rapid heart beat,palpitations and numbness or pain in various parts of the body.The worst part is,that these symptoms are misconstrued as rumblings of a serious disease.Naturally this accentuates his illness anxiety,which again causes further physical symptoms.It is a vicious cycle.

It is easy to see why Hypochondria is difficult to shake off.If these conditions last for six months and negatively impact a person's personal,social or occupational life then he can be said to be suffering from Hypochondria. 
The causes of hypochondria are hard to pinpoint.

1--Caregivers who are excessively concerned about minor ailments or bodily harm of a child could be sowing the seeds of this disorder.

2--A serious illness in childhood can also predispose a person to Hypochondria.

3--Serious disease or premature death of a loved one can also cause this disease.

4--Sometimes media is also responsible for triggering this disease in vulnerable individuals.Discussions about serious diseases on TV or print media,or the news of the outbreak of an epidemic also have an adverse effect upon such persons.

5--Cyberchondria-a new offshoot of this disease affects those who conduct extensive research about diseases on the Internet.

6--General Anxiety Disorder can also result in hypochondria.

7--Negligent / abusive parents.
Psychotherapy and medications are two options for treating this disorder.Both can run side by side.In fact they are both complementary because a person weighed down by misgivings about his health requires the assurance that the medicines prescribed by a doctor will cure him.

A strong will power and family support can hasten his recovery.It is essential to make determined efforts to maintain the pre-hypochondriac life style as far as possible.Paying undue attention to the symptoms worsens the condition.

The patient should recognize the triggers which worsen his condition and learn to counter-act them.
1--A hypochondriac should stick to one doctor--which he usually does not do.Consulting various doctors can expose him to unnecessary,repetitive tests and risky,invasive or painful procedures which will only inflict damage.
2--There is also the danger of over-medication which could precipitate adverse reactions.Constant fear and anxiety can make the person forgetful,with the result that he may take double doses of his medicines or miss them completely.

3--A pervasive feeling of impending doom can generate anxiety,depression,anger and frustration,leading to thoughts of suicide.

4--Some persons may latch on to substance abuse to generate a feeling of well-being.

5--Bogus or fraudulent healers should be avoided.They will not hesitate to pounce upon susceptible targets.

6--Repeated consultations with doctors can inflate the patient's bills sky-high.

7--A prolonged history of negative test results-coupled with the patient's tendency to magnify his ailments can result in him not being taken seriously when he actually does catch a disease.This ought to be guarded against.
Recovery from Hypochondria is slow.This is a long term condition.Approximately 30% of hypochondria patients may improve significantly.Recovery is better in well to do persons whose anxiety responds well to treatment and who do not have any personality disorder.Tackling the patient's anxiety should be the first concern.If that is removed then the battle is won.


  1. I think one of my friends suffer from it. She is always worried that she is sick. Even after her doctor gives her Ok, she checks internet and read all blogs. I think I should talk to her, I never knew it is a disease. Thanks for sharing this ma'am.

    1. Happy to help Saru.She should curb this tendency to browse about diseases.

  2. The worst problems to deal with are the ones which are all in the mind. Hypochondria is one of the pernicious ones.

    On a lighter note, Indu, the opening chapter of Jerome K Jerome's 'Three Men in a Boat' is probably the best humor that has been written on Hypochondria. THAT must be the first instance of 'Cyberchondria' though it is set in the days when IT was not even a wink on the horizon. Hypochondria caused by half-digested information.

    1. Yes curbing mental leanings is very difficult.
      I will check this para on the net--thanks Suresh.

  3. That's great information. Thanks for sharing Indu!

  4. We get to know so much from your posts/topics! Thanks a lot doc:)

  5. I am not a therapist like you Indu, but I feel that one of the important reasons for hypochondria is attention seeking. When the person doesn't get the attention he or she craves for, they take recourse to imaginary illnesses. The problem though is that one doesn't know what kind of attention they are craving and so the hypochondria flourishes. There is one scary point that jumped at me in your article -- it is about those around taking a hypochondriac lightly and not responding when there is a real emergency. Exhaustive and practical as ever. Thanks, Indu.

    1. Zephyr it is true that IAD absolves the person from his responsibilities and fetches him attention but i purposely omitted this because then many hypochondriacs would have been classed in this category and it would have been unfair to them.
      Thanks for this super praise.
      Good Morning and lots of love.

  6. Sticking with one doctor is very important for hypochondriacs. I know of someone who is a fit case for hypochondria. It's frustrating to deal with her on a regular basis. The caregivers also need a lot of patience.

    1. Very true.It is very frustrating for the patient and the caregiver--especially when the assurances have little effect.

  7. A very informative post, Indu. Yes, the hypochondriacs are very difficult to handle and manage and most times very emphatic in refusing medical help.

  8. All I need to do is Google my symptoms to bring out the hypochondriac in me :D

    On a serious note, a very informative post.

    1. Thanks for the appreciation Purba :)
      Google is seriously an adverse influence sometimes.For example if i were to google the side effects of any medicine,i doubt if i would take it.

  9. i have a childhood friend who is like this.when he was kid,he had epilepsy and his family doc and paediatrician kept him on phenobarbital for two years and he became normal and got rid of seizures.but he used to complain illness even if he is not ill.he used to say he has got fever but when doc confirms he doesn't have,he says he felt like he has got fever.he has grown up that way,he is fond of super-speciality docs from reputed medical schools and he is fond of blockbuster drugs that makes billions of dollars.he visits these docs and gets medicines which are sold only in usa market and are available only in apollo hospital pharmacy.its like happiness of shopping big brand clothes for him.he feels happy when he takes these unnecessary pills and undergoes diagnostic tests written by top docs.

    recently he got married and he left his regular habit of medicines and docs scared of his wife coz she may think he has got some serious illness.in the end ,marital life can have some affect on these kinda people.

    1. You have depicted a very detailed picture of a hypochondriac Rohan--thanks a lot.I am glad he could snap out of it.A serious childhood illness spoiled the pitch for him :(

  10. Agree Indu ji
    with what you have written ---the most important are two points .

    Tackling the patient's anxiety should be the first concern.If that is removed then the battle is won
    A strong will power and family support can hasten his recovery

    Just see how important is emotional support for curing all kinds of diseases even a cancer patient can be led towards a feeling of well being if not recovery with the help of emotional support

    thanks once again Indu ji for all these informative posts which keep ones feet firmly on the ground and tell us about the traumas people have to face in life ---we should be grateful for small mercies

    love and hugs

  11. Rajni thanks for your overwhelming support.You are right--when we read about these conditions we automatically feel grateful for having been blessed with a normal life .

    Lots of love.

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