Hypochondriac definition psychology

illness anxiety disorder | psychology

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illness anxiety disorder, formerly called hypochondriasis or hypochondria, mental disorder characterized by an excessive preoccupation with illness and a tendency to fear or believe that one has a serious disease on the basis of the presence of insignificant physical signs or symptoms. Illness anxiety disorder is thought to be derived from the misinterpretation of normal bodily functions and cues, thereby precipitating health-related anxiety.

Individuals with illness anxiety disorder may excessively research an alleged illness or symptom (known as cyberchondria when the research medium is the Internet) and become convinced that they are ill even though such physical signs are absent. They may exaggerate the medical significance of minor aches and pains, becoming morbidly and obsessively preoccupied with the thought of a life-threatening illness. Their fears usually persist even after a thorough examination by a physician has established that no physical abnormality exists, and the physician’s reassurances have only a slight or temporary effect on such individuals’ apprehensions. Typical affected individuals do not become delusional about their health, however; they remain able to consider or admit the possibility that their fears are unfounded. Some individuals go from doctor to doctor in their effort to enlist medical resources to deal with the imagined illness; other individuals, however, avoid seeking medical care. Clinical diagnosis of illness anxiety disorder is based on the persistence of illness-related fears and associated behaviour for six or more months.

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Although fears of illness or medical interventions are common in the general population, past prevalence estimates for clinically defined illness anxiety disorder (when the disorder was known as hypochondriasis) indicate that the condition is relatively rare. It is equally prevalent in males and females. Whether there is any association with socioeconomic status, educational level, race, or marital status is unclear. Onset can occur at any age, but it tends to manifest in early adulthood. Illness anxiety disorder often co-occurs with other psychiatric conditions, which may include depression, an anxiety disorder, or a personality disorder. Illness anxiety disorder is distinguished from other psychosomatic illnesses by its core feature of fear of having or contracting a disease, as opposed to concern about symptoms (as in somatic symptom disorder), concern about physical appearance (as in body dysmorphic disorder), or disturbances in motor or sensory functions (as in conversion disorder).

Although illness anxiety disorder tends to be chronic and episodic, some patients do recover. Many patients respond to an individualized treatment approach, which may include cognitive behaviour therapy. Pharmacotherapy, such as the use of antidepressants, may also be used, especially when symptoms of depression are present.

John L. PerriThe Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica

Signs You May be a Hypochondriac

A hypochondriac is someone who lives with the fear that they have a serious, but undiagnosed medical condition, even though diagnostic tests show there is nothing wrong with them. Hypochondriacs experience extreme anxiety from the bodily responses most people take for granted. For example, they may be convinced that something as simple as a sneeze is the sign they have a horrible disease.
Hypochondria accounts for about five percent of outpatient medical care annually. More than 200,000 people are diagnosed with health anxiety (also known as illness anxiety disorder) each year.

Hypochondriac Symptoms

Hypochondria is a mental health disorder. It usually starts in early adulthood and may show up after the person or someone they know has gone through an illness or after they’ve lost someone to a serious medical condition. About two-thirds of hypochondriacs have a co-existing psychiatric disorder, such as panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), or major depression. Hypochondria symptoms can vary, depending on factors such as stress, age, and whether the person is already an extreme worrier.
Hypochondriac symptoms may include:

  • Regularly checking themselves for any sign of illness
  • Fearing that anything from a runny nose to a gurgle in their gut is the sign of a serious illness
  • Making frequent visits to their doctor
  • Conversely, avoiding the doctor due to fear that the doctor will find they have a dreaded disease or serious illness
  • Talking excessively about their health
  • Spending a lot of time online, researching their symptoms
  • May focus on just one thing: a certain disease (example: cancer) or a certain body part (example: the lungs if they cough). Or, they may fear any disease or might become focused on a trending disease (example: during flu season, they may be convinced that a sniffle means they’re coming down with the flu)
  • Are unconvinced that their negative medical tests are correct, then worry that they have something undiagnosed and that no one will be able to find it and cure them
  • Avoiding people or places they fear may cause them to get sick
    Health anxiety can actually have its own symptoms because it’s possible for the person to have stomachaches, dizziness, or pain as a result of their overwhelming anxiety. In fact, illness anxiety can take over a hypochondriac’s life to the point that worrying and living in fear are so stressful, the person can become debilitated.
    You may be wondering what triggers hypochondria. Although there really isn’t an exact cause, we do know that people with illness anxiety are more likely to have a family member who is also a hypochondriac. The person with health anxiety may have gone through a serious illness and fear that their bad experience may be repeated. They may be going through major life stress or have had a serious illness during childhood. Or, they may already be suffering from a mental health condition and their hypochondria may be part of it.
Hypochondriac Treatment

Often, when a person repeatedly runs to their doctor at the first sign of a minor symptom, their doctor doesn’t take them seriously and may consider them to be a “difficult patient,” rather than a person who is honestly concerned about their health. Worse, some doctors will take advantage of the person’s fears and may run unnecessary tests just to appease the patient. In fact, it’s been estimated that more than $20 billion is spent annually on unnecessary procedures and examinations.
Self-help for hypochondria can include:

  • Learning stress management and relaxation techniques
  • Avoiding online searches for the possible meanings behind your symptoms
  • Focusing on outside activities such as a hobby you enjoy or volunteer work you feel passionate about
  • Avoiding alcohol and recreational drugs, which can increase anxiety
  • Working to recognize that the physical signs you experience are not a symptom of something ominous, but are actually normal bodily sensations
  • Setting up a schedule for regular appointments with your primary care doctor to discuss your health concerns. Work with them to set a realistic limit on medical tests and specialist referrals.

Professional treatments for hypochondria include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is very helpful for reducing patient fears. In this type of therapy, the person learns to recognize and understand the false beliefs that set off their anxiety. Research has shown that CBT successfully teaches hypochondriacs to identify what triggers their behavior and gives them coping skills to help them manage it.
  • Behavioral stress management or exposure therapy may be helpful
  • Psychotropic medications, such as anti-depressants, are sometimes used to treat health anxiety disorder

It is worth noting that many sufferers are unwilling to acknowledge the role anxiety plays in their symptoms. This makes them less likely to seek help from a mental health professional. Often, hypochondriacs are so resistant to the idea that they have anxiety that it takes intervention from loved ones to help them understand that they need assistance.

Get Help for Health Anxiety Disorder

Being a hypochondriac and experiencing health anxiety can be debilitating. It can severely affect the lives of the people who suffer from it.  The mental health professionals at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida are experienced in helping those with illness anxiety. For more information, contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

Hypochondria, hypochondriac - Psikhologos

January 01, 2010, 03:53 pm

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Hypochondria is a constant feeling of a painful condition, a belief in the presence of a serious illness, excessive concern about one's health in the absence of objective reasons for this. As an ongoing condition, hypochondria becomes a personality trait, and when it becomes the predominant focus of a person's life, it becomes a personality type. The person turns into a hypochondriac.

Most often, hypochondriacs “discover” various tumors, diseases of the heart, gastrointestinal tract or genital organs. Recently, a new kind of hypochondria has appeared - the conviction of a person that he is HIV-positive. Of course, negative test results are ignored.

A person who really suffers from hypochondria is quite easy to recognize by the following signs: complete preoccupation with one's own health and sensations from the body, suspiciousness, psychosomatics and depressive moods without delusions. In a mild form, hypochondria is the usual dreary sadness, spleen, continuously lasting empty suffering.

So, whiners and people with romantic experiences, suffering from the imperfection of the world and the lack of meaning in life, are often called hypochondriacs in everyday life. Watch the video “Ah, auntie, why did I leave the light?” (Film "Formula of Love")

How to tell a whiner from a hypochondriac

​​​​​​​​​​​​​Sometimes common whiners and malingerers are called hypochondriacs, but this is not the case, and it is not difficult to distinguish a whiner from a real hypochondriac. The whiner and the simulator is not so much concerned with the state of his health as he is eager to attract attention to himself. He does not need to feel bad at all - it is enough to talk about it, wringing his hands and demanding a special attitude towards himself. In the same case, when the attention is so close that they try to impose unpleasant examinations or procedures on the whiner, he immediately recovers (the appointment of a colonoscopy is especially effective). True, after a couple of days he gets sick again, but ... with something safer.

Unlike a whiner, a real hypochondriac suffers absolutely genuinely, he is constantly tormented by a constant exhausting fear of death, suffering, helplessness, he sincerely wants to be treated and cured. All his thoughts are painfully focused on the state of his own health. Dissatisfaction with doctors is caused not by a desire to manipulate or assert oneself, but by the fear that they are treating him incorrectly, and by the certainty that a neglected disease will soon lead him to a deplorable end.

A hypochondriac can torment himself with diets, physical examinations and very unpleasant painful procedures. He has no obvious bonuses from his condition, and we can say that he suffers disinterestedly.

How to treat a hypochondriac

Who to contact? Hypochondriacs run to the doctors all the time, but doctors, of course, cannot help them: the disease is imaginary, which makes it truly incurable. The first step to healing for any hypochondriac is to realize that the problem is not health. Further see →

  • Author N.I. Kozlov
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Comments (6):

Katrina, January 14, 2016, 9:31 pm

So I am also a hypochondriac.

Guest, April 04, 2018, 1:27 pm

I don't know the test results yet, but I'm sure I'm terminally ill. Is it hypochondria?



Kozlov Nikolai Ivanovich, 05 April 2018, 06:49

If this seems to you, this is hypochondria. If you follow this, it's stupidity.

Guest, February 14, 2019 5:09 PM

My dad buys a bunch of pills and drinks them by the handful. No doctors appointment. He prescribes and buys himself. He says that doctors do not understand anything and do not know how to treat. He is sure that he is sick and he knows where and what hurts him and how and how to treat. There is no way to convince. He immediately starts to get nervous and freak out, says that we do not believe him and do not understand, which means that no one needs him. Then he gets angry for a long time and later reprimands and complains to us. Is it hypochondria? What to do with it? He does not want to go to the doctors, he says that he does not trust that they will kill him. But he just poisons himself with various drugs himself.



Guest, April 3, 2019, 4:58 PM

Most likely hypochondria. You need to see a psychiatrist, I think you can’t help him anymore. Or he himself must realize it.



Guest, May 05, 2019, 08:14

I think that a believer should not have this. Well, if a person is still educated.

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A person who really suffers from hypochondria is fairly easy to recognize by the following signs.

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Hypochondria is an unreasonable concern of a person about his health, which is accompanied by obsessive thoughts about the presence of a serious or incurable disease. Hypochondria is a mental disorder, a symptom of a mental disorder, or a personality trait.

CAUSES The exact cause of this symptom is not known. According to physiologists, the appearance of hypochondriacal thoughts can be caused by the following processes: Violation of coherence in the work of the cerebral cortex Distorted perception by the cerebral cortex of impulses from internal organs Disturbance between the work of the autonomic nervous system and the cerebral cortex The first manifestation of delusional disorders

SYMPTOMS OF HYPOCHONDRIC DISORDER Patients with hypochondria vividly and emotionally describe the signs of certain serious diseases (cancer, HIV, severe diseases of the internal organs), but there are no signs of the disease during the examination. They constantly listen to the processes taking place in the body. Realizing that their experiences are excessive, patients with hypochondria cannot get rid of intrusive depressing thoughts. Hypochondria can develop under the influence of external provoking factors (the rash words of a doctor; viewing medical advertisements, for example, by medical students studying the symptoms of diseases). The development of obsessive hypochondria is promoted by an anxious and suspicious personality type.

DIAGNOSIS Diagnosis begins with standard examinations, which include blood, urine, feces, ultrasound of internal organs, etc. If no pathology of the internal organs is detected, and anxiety about the state of health persists, the patient is recommended to consult a psychiatrist or psychotherapist.

TYPES OF DISEASE A distinction is made between overvalued and delusional hypochondria. With overvalued hypochondria, patients react very sharply even to mild health problems, adhere to independently invented diets, take a lot of medicines, vitamins and dietary supplements (BAA). These people often feel they are being treated incorrectly and sue clinics and doctors. This type of hypochondria can be observed with an exacerbation of psychopathy or the debut of schizophrenia. Patients with delusional hypochondria are sure that they have incurable diseases. They interpret the doctor's attempts to dissuade them as a hopelessness of the state (allegedly medicine is powerless in front of their illness). Delusions, hallucinations, depression are possible. Suicidal attempts are often observed.

PATIENT ACTIONS If you or your loved ones have intrusive anxious thoughts about your health for no apparent reason, you should consult a therapist. The doctor will determine if there is reason to worry about physical health, or if hypochondria has developed. Depression, schizophrenia can begin with manifestations of hypochondria. The sooner the patient sees a doctor and begins treatment, the more favorable the prognosis.

TREATMENT OF HYPOCHONDRIC DISORDER The basis of treatment is work with a psychotherapist and psychiatrist, support from family and friends. Correction of disturbances in the cerebral cortex, the establishment of normal connections between the cortex and the vegetative part of the nervous system is being carried out. With neurotic disorders accompanied by hypochondria, tranquilizers or antipsychotics are used. With hypochondria of a depressive nature, antidepressants are prescribed.

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