Measles. Ebola. Enterovirus D68. With so many diseases making headlines,
it’s normal to feel a twinge of worry about getting ill. But if
your fear is a long-term fixation, you may be suffering from hypochondria,
said Fred Richmond, MBA, PhD, executive director of behavioral health
Mission Hospital Laguna Beach and Mission Viejo
“With hypochondria, you believe you have a potentially fatal illness,
even though you don’t have any symptoms or a diagnosis to back up
that belief,” Richmond says. “You may schedule repeated doctor
visits or habitually surf the Internet looking up diseases or symptoms.
Any minor pains or aches are cause to think you are seriously ill.”
Hypochondria is an equal opportunity disorder, in that anyone can have
it. Doctors aren’t sure why people get hypochondria, but there are
potential risk factors that could make people more susceptible.
“Perhaps you or a loved one has experienced a health crisis, you
have an anxiety disorder, or you were abused in your past,” Richmond said.
If you find yourself obsessed with the idea that you are sick, to the point
where the anxiety is long term and it consumes a lot of your time, it
may be a good idea to talk to a psychologist.
“If your regular medical doctor can’t find anything wrong with
your health, or multiple tests show no signs of concern, but you still
can’t shake your fear, a psychologist could help you talk through
your worries to get at the root of the issue,” Richmond said.
A check for hypochondria can include physical and psychological examinations.
An official diagnosis of hypochondria means you meet the criteria for
the condition according to criteria outlined in the American Psychiatric
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
“According to those guidelines, patients must believe they are ill
for at least six months and worry about it excessively, to the detriment
of their daily activities,” Richmond said.
After a diagnosis of hypochondria, possible treatments could include a
combination of counseling, such as cognitive behavior therapy, and medication
such as antidepressants. Richmond adds that it’s also important
to exercise regularly and abstain from alcohol and drugs.
“Talking openly with friends or a support group can help if you feel
yourself start to worry,” Richmond said. “Once you’ve
committed to a course of treatment to help you manage your hypochondria,
don’t turn back.”
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.