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Hypochondriasis Disorder

What is hypochondriasis disorder?

Hypochondriasis disorder is mental health problem in which people have physical symptoms with a psychological cause. They fear and worry about having a serious disease. They believe that mild body symptoms mean they have a major medical problem.

How does it occur?

Hypochondriasis can start at any age. It usually starts during the young adult years. Often the person has been worried about medical complaints for a long time.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of this disorder include:

  • being afraid that they have a certain medical condition even when medical tests show no problem. In fact, medical procedures and opinions do little to change the person's mind about the suspected problem.
  • going to many healthcare providers or clinics looking for someone to agree that they have the problem
  • thinking that minor physical symptoms are proof that the problem is real and simply missed or ignored by healthcare providers
  • being overly concerned with bodily functions, like sweating
  • worrying about vague physical sensations, like a tired heart
  • worry more after reading about a disease, knowing someone who is ill, or noticing body changes

Millions of people in the US have hypochondriasis disorder. Most deny it. Many believe they are not getting good medical care.

How is it diagnosed?

A therapist or healthcare provider will ask you about your symptoms and how long you have had them. He or she will ask how they affect your daily life.

You may also have other mental health problems. The most common are depression, anxiety, and personality disorders. Often you have many surgeries and medical treatments without getting better before you are diagnosed.

How is it treated?

Psychiatric medicines may help manage the symptoms, especially if you have anxiety, depression, or obsessions (ideas that you can't stop thinking about).

Counseling and psychotherapy are also helpful. You may need to explore possible benefits from being seen as sick. For example, you may get extra attention and care from family and friends. Or you may avoid work or other responsibilities by being sick. Family members may also find counseling useful.

How long will the effects last?

Hypochondriasis can last for years. You may improve a great deal with treatment.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Ask for patience and support from friends and family. Understanding the problem and making the correct diagnosis may take months. Patience and counseling over time are the most helpful.
  • Find a support group that meets regularly and offers social support.
  • If your friend or relative has one of these problems, don't insist that he or she ignore physical symptoms. Your loved one may withdraw from you if he or she feels pressured.

For more information, contact:

Written by Gayle Zieman, PhD, for RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-11-17
Last reviewed: 2010-06-14
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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