Hypochondria: Is There a Cure?

07.11.2018

There are certain individuals who, despite being perfectly healthy, are convinced that they are suffering serious ailments constantly. For these people, something as minor as a stomach ache will assure them that they are terminally ill, and there’s no telling them otherwise. Their personal and work lives are often affected by this condition, called hypochondria. A minor cold can cause such awful anxiety that they won’t be able to eat or sleep, resulting in weight loss which causes further worry.

 

Most people consider this condition something to roll one’s eyes at. Nevertheless, it is a real psychiatric disorder which can affect a person’s quality of life in ways that they can’t control. It’s similar to anxiety and depression in this way, although its symptoms are unique.

What causes hypochondria?

Hypochondria might affect as much as 3% of the population of the United States. This statistic comes from a study conducted by psychiatric professionals across four universities. Hypochondria usually begins in one’s 20’s. It can be triggered by a real medical condition that the patient previously experienced, or the condition of a loved one or friend. It can occur in phases over the course of a person’s life, surfacing during stressful situations. Both men and women are affected by this condition.

 

Hypochondria occurs in a vicious cycle. To begin the cycle, some real but minor aches and pains are experienced which are exaggerated in the sufferer’s mind. This in turn creates further real but minor symptoms which exacerbate the hypochondriac’s anxiety. Moreover, people with this condition are not prone to sit and suffer in silence. They will strike out to find the cure for their “disease,” real or imagined, which can provoke further stress. This can be a hassle for their loved ones or even for doctors who get fed up diagnosing their trivial ailments.

 

On the other hand, hypochondriacs will sometimes avoid medical treatment to prevent this vicious cycle of anxiety. This can be a problem when they choose to neglect to treat a medical condition that seriously affects them. Others still will avoid treatment because they are so stricken with despair at their illness that they believe they can’t be saved or, in some cases, that they’ve incurred their sickness as a punishment for some misdeed.

 

Hypochondriacs are often aware of their condition. Indeed, evidence abounds that they’re perfectly healthy, but when an episode occurs, this evidence will slip from their consciousness. They feel sure that something is terribly wrong, and that feeling will not be shaken by anything, including rock solid reason.

Is hypochondria the same as anxiety (GAD)?

Hypochondria is sometimes associated with other anxiety disorders, such as obsessive compulsive disorder. An OCD sufferer might have to count on his fingers constantly and relentlessly, as if to make sure they’re still there. Likewise, the hypochondriac feels he has to check on his symptoms at the slightest sign of sickness, often something as small as a single cough.

 

Hypochondria is not heritable. That is, it isn’t passed down genetically, but it’s triggered in individual cases by a real and serious illness that the patient has personally experienced during their own lifetime. Somatization disorder and GAD are slightly more common in families with a hypochondriac member, however. This might reinforce the suggestion that hypochondria is related to other anxiety disorders.

Is there any way to treat hypochondria?

Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be an effective treatment for hypochondria, although there is concern that much of the research is plagued by methodology errors. There is some evidence that SSRI’s can treat this condition, but further research is called for before it can be stated conclusively. Ketone supplements may reduce anxiety, which is closely associated with hypochondria.

 

Article last time updated on 07.11.2018.

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