Preoccupation with fears of having a serious disease, being obsessed with one’s body, and constantly looking for signs of something wrong with one’s health and misinterpreting those signs are the essential features of hypochondriasis. People with hypochondriasis can fear a brain tumor when they have a headache, skin cancer when they see skin discoloration, and a neurologic disorder when they feel a muscle spasm.
Hypochondriasis can cause extreme distress and result
in frequent trips to the doctor.
People who suffer with this form of anxiety are no strangers to MRIs, CAT scans, and other medical screening devices. Yet even with a negative result, patients sometimes sill believe that they have a serious disease. A person with hypochondriasis does not purposely create their symptoms, nor are they pretending. They are just preoccupied with their health and misinterpret any physical oddity they happen to notice.
Hypochondriasis leads to constant self-examination and
incorrect self-diagnosis via scary articles they find on the Internet,
which makes the anxiety worse.
A person with this disorder needs constant reassurance from family, friends, and physicians, and this can take a toll on their relationships. On the other hand, some with hypochondriasis never tell anyone about their fears because they are afraid they will not be taken seriously.
The exact cause of this disorder is unknown. Like all anxiety disorders, there is a strong genetic component. Other factors include a history of physical or sexual abuse, a close family member with the disorder, a death or serious illness of a family member or friend, or having suffered frequent or serious illnesses as a child.
The Internet and the media often contribute to hypochondriasis. Information about serious illnesses, such as cancer or heart failure, is now widely available to consumers via articles, ads, TV shows, etc., with illnesses often portrayed as commonplace and symptoms random. A widespread outbreak of an illness, such as the swine flu epidemic, can contribute to hypochondriasis.
Excerpt from The Anxiety Solution Series, demonstrating the condition before and after treatment:
“The biggest fear I had was medical conditions. Like I thought I had every medical problem there is. I would have a muscle twitch, and then I would look it up on the Internet and see muscle twitch could mean neurological disorder, then I thought this is a problem with my brain. I would always want to go to the doctor. I would end up getting an MRI of my brain because of it.” — College Student
“The thoughts are popping in my head less, and they’re not bothering me as much. They’re not causing me any kind of anxiety. Now I can just laugh at it and keep thinking about it if I want, or think about something else. And they don’t mean much any more…. Five or six months ago, my anxiety was probably an 8 or a 9. And now it’s, I would say, a 1 or a 2. — College Student