Hypochondria, also known as hypochondriasis or illness anxiety disorder, is a condition that involves obsession and intense worrying about your health.
Hypochondria, also known as hypochondriasis or illness anxiety disorder, is a condition that involves obsession and intense worrying about your health.

Hypochondria, also known as hypochondriasis or illness anxiety disorder, is a condition that involves obsession and intense worrying about your health. Hypochondria has a variety of causes and treatments.

What is hypochondria?

Hypochondria is an anxiety disorder. It involves repeated thoughts and worries that you are sick or about to get sick. These thoughts occur even if you have no symptoms of an illness at all. You may also believe that harmless symptoms like random, short-lived aches and pains are signs of a more serious illness.

Hypochondria can be care-seeking or care-avoidant. People with care-seeking hypochondria regularly visit the doctor and other health professionals to get medical tests and advice.

People with care-avoidant hypochondria actively avoid going to the doctor. This could be due to fear of getting diagnosed with a disease.

How do I know if I’m a hypochondriac?

Hypochondriac signs involve worrying about your health status. People with other diagnosed illnesses can still have hypochondria in addition. 

Not believing medical test results. People with hypochondria often seek medical tests for conditions they think they may have. They may continue to get medical tests regularly for the reassurance the tests provide. 

Negative test results don’t lessen their worries. People may believe that the medical test results aren’t accurate or that the tests missed an important detail.

Thinking normal bodily functions are signs of serious disease. Someone with hypochondria may mistakenly believe that minor symptoms could signal a more serious condition. They may scan their body for symptoms of a certain disease they have in mind.

Common examples of misunderstood symptoms include.

  • Blemishes or moles on the skin
  • Lumps under the skin
  • Side effects from medication
  • Throat tightness
  • Muscle soreness or tightness
  • Headaches
  • Numbness 
  • Pain or cramps
  • Varying breathing patterns 

Anxiety from hypochondria itself can also bring on many of these symptoms.

Worrying about getting sick in the future. Some cases of hypochondria focus on possible future sickness instead of current symptoms. For example, if you have a family member with cancer, this may trigger anxiety about developing cancer yourself even if you don’t currently have symptoms.

Constantly searching symptoms and diagnoses online. Someone with hypochondria may spend hours online researching conditions and symptoms. Searching for information online about headaches, for instance, may convince someone that they have a brain tumor.

The illness they’re worried about may change as they learn about different diseases. Someone could worry that they have cancer and then become convinced they actually have heart disease.

Worrying you have an illness you recently learned about. You may worry you have a disease you saw on TV or in a movie. If you see a news story about the Ebola virus, you may often scan for symptoms in yourself and become convinced that you have that disease.

Overusing medical services. With hypochondria, you may get so worried about your symptoms that you often rush to the emergency room or call 911. You might also see multiple doctors many times for the same issues even after they tell you nothing is wrong.

QUESTION

Panic attacks are repeated attacks of fear that can last for several minutes. See Answer

What causes hypochondria?

Experts aren’t sure what causes hypochondria. Several factors can make it more likely to happen.

Past or present illness. Dealing with specific illnesses can make someone more likely to show signs of hypochondria. This could happen if you or someone close to you had a serious illness during your childhood. You may be worried about getting sick again.

Other mental illnesses. Hypochondria is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder. If you have OCD, it may show up in the form of illness anxiety. If your parents or close family members have illness anxiety or OCD, you are more likely to have hypochondria later in life.

Hypochondria can also be part of bipolar disorder or psychosis. These conditions often involve false beliefs, also called delusions. You may falsely believe that you have a serious disease.

Childhood trauma. Abuse or neglect during your childhood can raise your risk of hypochondria. Common childhood life events for people with hypochondria include:

  • Sexual abuse
  • Seeing or receiving physical abuse
  • Divorced parents
  • Death of a parent or loved one
  • Parents ignoring your needs

How do you treat hypochondria?

The goal in treating hypochondria is to worry less about being seriously ill. This can help you have a better quality of life with less stress

Therapy. A professional therapist can help you address the thought processes that lead to hypochondria. You can work together to manage these triggers and build new coping techniques.

Simplifying your medical care. Treating hypochondria can include sticking with one doctor instead of “shopping” for multiple specialists. A closer relationship with your doctor can help them better understand your health. This also reduces the medical tests and other services you may get otherwise.

SLIDESHOW

A Visual Guide to Generalized Anxiety Disorder See Slideshow

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Medically Reviewed on 1/14/2022
References
American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine: “Toward a Lifestyle Medicine Approach to Illness Anxiety Disorder (Formerly Hypochondriasis).” American Journal of Psychiatry: “Histories of childhood trauma in adult hypochondriacal patients.” Anxiety & Depression Association of America: “Health Anxiety.” Anxiety, Stress, & Coping: “Imagining the future in health anxiety: the impact of rumination on the specificity of illness-related memory and future thinking.” Clinics and Practice: “Hypochondriacal delusion in an elderly woman recovers quickly with electroconvulsive therapy.” Frontiers in Psychiatry: “Severe Illness Anxiety Treated by Integrating Inpatient Psychotherapy With Medical Care and Minimizing Reassurance.” General Hospital Psychiatry: “Psychiatric comorbidity among patients with hypochondriasis.” Harvard Health Publishing: “Always worried about your health? You may be dealing with health anxiety disorder.” HealthDirect: “Hypochondria.” NHS: “Health anxiety.” Psychosomatics: “Childhood antecedents of hypochondriasis.” Sheppard Pratt: “Shedding Light on Health Anxiety OCD.”