Hypochondriasis is a disorder that involves a fear of having a serious disease even though there is no identifiable medical condition that can explain the physical signs or symptoms. Hypochondriacs misinterpret normal bodily symptoms for a serious illness. For example, a hypochondriac might see a pulled muscle as a tumor growing in their leg. Even though others may reassure them that they are fine, the hypochondriac persistently believes that their health is at risk; they might even think that they are dying. A cut it never really a cut, and a cough is never merely a cough.
About 1 in 20 Americans who visit doctors are suffering from the disorder, however, this estimation is unclear. The person can be a lifelong hypochondriac and never know it, the same as one might think that he or she is a hypochondriac and in fact, actually be physically ill. Thus the findings are uncertain.
Hypochondriasis Isn’t Something to Laugh About…
Many times people will tell hypochondriacs that “they’re fine” or “don’t worry” or simply laugh off the person’s complaints. Despite the fact that hypochondriacs are actually terrified that they might die, people dismiss them because they don’t want to hear them obsessing about their health. This can be crippling for the hypochondriac.
So the next time your friend complains about his or her sore throat being cancer, don’t laugh at them!
After all, the hypochondriac isn’t just a hypochondriac. Many other disorders underlie hypochondriasis. Some of these include anxiety or depression, and many times both. These people are anxious all of the time about their symptoms which can actually cause physical symptoms such as stomach and digestive problems or headaches. Thus they may experience real pain; however, they interpret their pain in a different way from most people.
Imagine telling yourself over and over that the bruise on your hand is cancerous and that you will die from it. After a while, you will believe it because your brain is so powerful that it can convince itself of an illness. No matter how many people reassure you that you will be okay, you will not believe them.
More on Hypochondriasis
So where do you draw the line? How do you know if you have hypochondriasis or if you are just a worrier? There is no obvious line to draw between the two; however, hypochondriacs seem to get something out of their obsessions and their illness role. So much so, that they have trouble thinking about anything else in their lives.
The causes of hypochondriasis seem to be very complex. Many believe that it may partially be caused by genetics. Others believe it is learned. For example, if a child grew up with a mother who always feared that her kids were sick, then the child as an adult comes to worry irrationally about health issues. Stress is another factor that serves as a catalyst in developing the disorder. Personal tragedy may often predispose a person to the illness as well, such as the death of a loved one.
How Do You Treat Hypochondriasis?
There are many different techniques to treat people with hypochondriasis. However, the most common method is exposure therapy. This type of therapy exposes the person to his or her irrational fear. For example, if the person thinks that he or she has HIV, the person will move toward that fear and will spend time around people with HIV. The goal here is to get the person to do something that he or she has been avoiding. In the beginning his or her anxiety levels will increase and then after a while the person will become comfortable or desensitized to the fear. The person will recognize that his or her fear is just that, a fear, rather than reality.
Another treatment that is used is medication; however, it does not always work.
If you or someone else needs help or would like to learn more about this disorder please contact us!