Hypochondria is a serious mental disorder. Those affected are firmly convinced that they are suffering from a serious illness, without this having been confirmed by a medical diagnosis. Those affected are usually very aware of their behavior, but still cannot control their fears.
What is hypochondria?
Hypochondriacs often conduct extensive self-research into specific illnesses, symptoms, and signs. Information is collected and generally perceived in a completely exaggerated manner. See AbbreviationFinder for abbreviations related to Hypochondria.
The mental disorder hypochondria manifests itself in an unfounded fear of illness. People suffering from hypochondria suffer from the fear of suffering from a serious illness.
They can usually name exactly which illness they are afraid of. If the doctor cannot confirm the fears of those affected with a corresponding diagnosis, different doctors are usually consulted. However, patients with hypochondria usually do not believe the examinations and results of doctors.
Many people with hypochondria are aware of their irrational behavior but cannot control it. There is often a risk of social withdrawal and loneliness.
To date, it has not been finally clarified what the causes of hypochondria are. However, it is assumed that social, psychological and biological factors play a role in its development. In general, people suffering from hypochondria are anxious and very cautious people.
Due to appropriate educational influences or also very painful events, the innate anxiety can develop into hypochondria. Mental stress also seems to play a role in its development.
Research has shown that in people with hypochondria, the limbic system is overactive and easily influenced. In this brain area, feelings are processed and attention is drawn to certain situations. This discovery could be proof that biological factors do play a role.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
People who suffer from hypochondria are usually very afraid of getting sick. This fear significantly restricts the lives of these people, so that psychological problems can also occur under certain circumstances. Added to this is the worry of pain, disability or even death.
In some cases, affected people also specifically focus on a specific disease. Hypochondriacs often conduct extensive self-research into specific illnesses, symptoms, and signs. Information is collected and generally perceived in a completely exaggerated manner. Conversations with other people are avoided, so that hypochondriacs often have a disturbed social life.
You have an urgent need to clarify possible symptoms immediately. Possible symptoms are perceived in an increased way and constant visits to the doctor follow. People who suffer from hypochondria are firmly attached to the fact that they suffer from a certain disease.
This leads to catastrophic thoughts about one’s own condition, as well as severe panic attacks. The thoughts will increase significantly over time if no therapy is used. For outsiders, it is usually very difficult to recognize hypochondria. For this reason, more attention should be paid to the signs mentioned above.
Diagnosis & History
Hypochondria is a mental disorder that is very difficult not to diagnose very often. In order to make a clear diagnosis, the disorder must have existed for at least six months. This makes it very difficult to diagnose, because those affected often change their treating doctor as soon as the doctor finds out that the feared illness is not present. Most hypochondriacs just can’t imagine being in good health. They sometimes hope that they actually have a dangerous disease so that their ideas are confirmed.
In addition, many doctors hesitate to diagnose hypochondria because they fear they have overlooked a physical condition. In addition, it is extremely rare for those affected to consult a mental health specialist because they firmly believe that they are suffering from a physical illness.
In addition to detailed questioning about the symptoms present, a reliable diagnosis also includes questions about the prevailing fears and the degree of self-observation of those affected. In addition, the doctor tries to differentiate the hypochondria from other obsessive-compulsive fears that may be present by asking specific questions.
Obsessive-compulsive anxiety and hypochondria are often associated with depression. Here, too, the doctor tries to differentiate between the individual symptoms, with other obsessive-compulsive fears, depression and hypochondria often coexisting.
Hypochondria primarily leads to severe mental health problems and depression. In serious cases, however, it can also lead to physical symptoms and complications, so that in the worst case the person concerned dies due to hypochondria. As a rule, the patient thinks that he is ill with a certain disease, although this is not the case.
Sweating and panic attacks occur. Those affected are often restless and uncomfortable, social contacts are avoided in many cases or broken off directly. It can also lead to severe heart palpitations. It is not uncommon for patients to take medication that is actually not necessary because there is no underlying disease. In this case, the drugs can harm the body and damage certain organs.
Likewise, a doctor is often consulted for no reason. Depression and misconceptions often lead to social exclusion. The treatment of hypochondria is carried out by a psychologist and usually does not lead to further complications. However, it can take a long time before the treatment shows an initial effect.
When should you go to the doctor?
People who suffer from strong fears should always consult a therapist. If there is an increase in anxiety or if the anxiety-provoking topics increase, a visit to the doctor is advisable. If everyday obligations can no longer be met, if the person concerned is suffering from emotional distress or if the symptoms affect social behavior, a doctor is needed. The fear of a serious illness leads to immense mental stress.
In the event of sweating, concentration disorders, sleep problems, shortness of breath or increased irritability, a doctor’s visit is recommended. If there is social withdrawal, depressive or melancholic phases, worsened mood and tachycardia, a doctor should be consulted. In most cases, there is a lack of insight into the illness in the case of hypochondria, since the person concerned does not believe it is possible to be healthy. Therefore, it is helpful to build a stable and trusting environment.
Although patients with hypochondria may switch physicians frequently, it helps with the overall picture if the full medical history is presented at each visit. Those affected often suffer for many years and should confide in a therapist as soon as they realize that they need help to strengthen themselves emotionally. In the case of lack of energy, resignation and simultaneous inner turmoil, a doctor should be consulted.
Treatment & Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy is used to successfully treat hypochondria. First and foremost, however, a certain amount of insight and the cooperation of the person concerned is necessary in order to get the mental disorder under control. In therapy, those affected learn to realistically and completely reassess their entire body and their symptoms.
Many behaviors in everyday life also have to be put into perspective and, in part, re-learned in people who suffer from hypochondria. There are those affected who avoid shaking hands with other people for fear of infection. This would be such everyday behavior that would have to be re-evaluated and learned by the person concerned.
Furthermore, in cognitive behavioral therapy, the focus is always on the patient’s future complaints. You should learn to assess them realistically when they first appear. This also includes that those affected stop making excessive inquiries about possible serious illnesses that could be the trigger for the perceived symptoms.
For the successful treatment of hypochondria, the unconditional understanding and cooperation of those affected is essential at every stage of therapy.
Only those who fear suffering from hypochondria can take preventive measures against hypochondria. If you feel a great fear of serious illnesses and catch yourself fearing the worst when you have symptoms, you should try to build a relationship of trust with the doctor treating you.
This is the only way to believe the doctor and get rid of the fear if the diagnosis is – fortunately – negative. In addition, anyone who fears suffering from hypochondria should try to be open to psychosomatic treatment. This is the only way to treat an existing hypochondria.
Since hypochondria is a mental disorder, follow-up care must be lifelong. Measures for follow-up care therefore already begin with the end of the therapy, which usually takes place with a psychologist. Follow-up care for patients with hypochondria differs from case to case, but is based on a common framework.
In psychotherapy, those affected have usually worked out factors that led to the onset of hypochondria. Awareness of these factors is now the starting point for maintaining a stable mental state and preventing relapses. Patients must develop sufficient sensitivity to their own condition and risky external factors.
In particular, strokes of fate or illnesses in the family hold the potential to cause mentally unstable people an intolerable level of stress, which can lead to renewed hypochondria. If patients notice that they are overwhelmed with new situations in their life or experience other mental problems, the former psychotherapist or a psychological emergency center should be contacted immediately.
The sooner you give in here, the greater the chances that a new outbreak of the disease can be avoided. Self-help groups are an option for patients to find understanding and exchange even after the illness, which makes it easier to deal with the mental disorder.
You can do that yourself
Hypochondria is a disorder in which those affected, possibly with therapeutic support, can actively work in their everyday life to gradually build up the tormenting fears surrounding supposed illnesses.
This includes, first of all, that the patient makes the inner decision for himself to trust the doctor’s diagnosis and advice after the examination. Visiting other doctors for second opinions (the so-called “doctor hopping”) only provides short-term reassurance and often increases the hypochondria over time, as does constant research for one’s own symptoms on the Internet (cyberchondria).
Another important building block for people affected by hypochondria is to trust their own body again. In many cases, this can be achieved through sporty training with a gentle start and dosed exertion. As a result, the patient regains confidence in his or her ability to perform and the fear of serious illnesses such as a heart attack can be reduced or, ideally, completely eliminated.
Distractions such as social activities can also help to break the constant preoccupation with one’s own body and the associated negative cycle of thoughts. Learning a relaxation method or yoga also helps in this regard. In addition, CDs with guided imaginary journeys support the ability to relax, which is so important for the hypochondriac.