Hypochondriasis

(last updated 15 Jan 2012)

Hypochondriasis is an abnormal fear of having a serious medical condition. This concern persists even though medical examinations rule out any actual illness. People who have this condition feel very anxious. They suffer from physical symptoms even though there is no physical illness present. Individuals with this condition continue to believe they are seriously ill even when the doctor tells them they are well.

The person is convinced that he or she has a have a serious disease. Individuals with this condition will often be well informed about illnesses, diagnoses and treatments. Usually, they have had seen several doctors as they try to discover the cause for their symptoms.

Symptoms may be very vague or quite specific. Commonly these symptoms involve stomach problems such as bloating, belching, and cramps

Other characteristics of hypochodriasis include:

  • anxiety
  • symptoms that are present for at least 6 months
  • excessive concern over having a disease, so that it interferes with normal functioning. For example, the person may not be able to go to school or work.

This condition occurs in both men and women. It is not clear what causes the problem. This condition may occur more often in people who:

  • were sick or had sick family members during childhood
  • were victims of abuse
  • have various other psychological disorders

The person will first have medical examination and tests to rule out actual physical disease. If no disease is found, the diagnosis can be made through a psychological evaluation. The long-term effects are mostly related to the symptoms.

People with this condition do not have the serious physical disease they think they do. However, symptoms may be severe. The person may be unable to go to work or school. The problem may also put stress on personal relationships.

This condition poses no physical risk to others. However, it may be hard for family members to deal with the affected person. People with this condition may demand attention and be difficult to live with. The family may even need counselling to help handle the situation.

A person with this disease has real symptoms even if there is no underlying illness. The first goal of treatment is to reduce these symptoms. A doctor may continue to see the person to treat their symptoms. Counselling for the person and the family is essential.

People with this condition have a hard time accepting that they do not have a serious physical illness. Medications may help the person cope with feelings of anxiety. Usually, the greatest risk to the person with this condition is having surgery or other unnecessary treatments. Time and money can be wasted on unneeded visits to doctors.

This condition does not always respond well to treatment and some people with hypochondriasis will always believe that they have a serious disease. They may go from one doctor to another to try to get help for their symptoms. Both a primary doctor and a mental health professional usually monitor the disease.

The doctor will continue to treat the symptoms that the person has. The mental health professional will provide counselling for the person and the family. Regular follow-up visits can help people deal with symptoms.