Hypochondriasis disorder (hypochondria) may also be referred to as a health anxiety. People who are affected by this disorder worry excessively about the presence or possibility of having, contracting or becoming sick from a rare or serious illness. When hypochondria is involved, any evidence of symptoms, no matter how minor, could lead to constant self-examination, self-diagnosis, and the need for reassurance from doctors, family and friends, even if medical science shows no evidence of negative prognosis. Patients are often doubting of what their doctors have said and focus constantly and relentlessly on the most dire consequences possible.
Symptoms of Hypochondriasis Disorder
Symptoms of hypochondriasis disorder can include any possible symptoms that can legitimately result from any disease or illness. A secondary illness may actually be present, but with an excellent prognosis. Hypochondria often drives a person to doubt, focus constantly and potentially manifest those life-threatening consequences into his or her life. Patients may seek medical attention or constant advice and reassurance from family members. They may also become fanatically engaged in talk, reading or other research of all the potential outcomes of a disease or infection that they might presently have. Often, people affected with this disorder will show signs of clinical depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder as well. Excessive hand-washing or germ decontamination may be explained by the need to avoid illness.
Causes of Hypochondriasis Disorder
The reasons that some people develop hypochondriasis disorder while others do not remains a mystery. Scientific research has shown many factors that may contribute to susceptibility, however. Genetics or family history can result in a biological or environmental creation of this disorder. Brain chemical imbalance that stems from a genetic predisposition or years spent learning behavior from a close family member or friend can contribute to symptoms of the disorder. No matter the reason for a persons susceptibility to this hypochondria, there are also many situations than can lead to severity of symptoms, such as sensationalism of cancer statistics or predictions of pandemic outbreaks. The mass availability of medical information on the internet can also lead a person to develop tendencies toward worry and fear associated with potential disease.
Diagnosis of Hypochondriasis Disorder
When a patient becomes obsessed with the potential for life-threatening consequences from a mild or even non-existent illness, hypochondriasis disorder may be the cause. Physical examinations should first be conducted to rule out the possibility of existing disease, and then a psychological assessment can help to determine stress factors, family medical history and susceptibility to this disorder. An interview will likely be conducted with the patient, designed with specific questions aimed in helping the therapist come to a diagnosis of this particular condition. A psychiatrist or psychologist will likely look for other signs of mental illness as well.
Treatment Options for Hypochondriasis Disorder
Depending upon the preference of the patient, and the circumstances of his or her situation, there are many different treatment options that may be of benefit. Following describes a few of these treatment options ranging from traditional medical treatment to alternative ways to alleviate symptoms:
- Traditional medication – anti-depressant medication or SSRIs help to bring brain chemicals back into balance. Significant research has shown these drugs to be beneficial for alleviating symptoms of depression or other mental illness. Side effects are possible and recommendation of medication may perpetuate symptoms of hypochondria.
- Therapy – Cognitive-behavioral therapy has a multitude of uses and can benefit the hypochondriac in helping to pinpoint triggering events that may lead to disturbance of symptoms. Once awareness of the situation becomes apparent, patients may then learn new ways to cope with the troubling behavior and avoid stressful situations that may be inducing symptoms.
- Alternative remedies – many alternative, herbal and homeopathic remedies have been researched and found to significantly benefit overall health of mind, body and soul. Taking advantage of one or many ways to achieve this balance can bring a sense of peace and significantly alleviate fear associated with hypochondriasis disorder. The abundance of available information on alternative remedies may also prove to swing a patients obsessive focus from negative to positive knowledge.