Are You Sick, Or Is It Hypochondria?

What Is Hypochondria?

Hypochondria, also called hypochondriasis is when a person sees unusual physical sensations & minor symptoms as an indication of a severe medical condition. People with hypochondriasis may now diagnosed as having an illness anxiety disorder. It is this excessive anxiety — rather than the physical symptoms — that can cause distress that disrupts your life.

According to the Centre For Anxiety Disorders, more than 200,000 people are diagnosed with illness anxiety disorder annually. While we do not have the stats locally, you probably know someone that always complains about one symptom or the other, convinced that they have a severe illness.

In a way, the Nigerian tradition of ascribing every stomach ache and fever to automatically equal typhoid can be seen as a form of health anxiety. This erroneous belief is further propagated by unscrupulous medical practitioners who pronounce the twin diseases of typhoid and malaria on every patient with a fever.

Lest we digress, let us return our focus to hypochondria.

A dangerous part about hypochondria is that patients may be exploited by unscrupulous healthcare workers who run unnecessary tests to rack up the bill. In the US, it is estimated that up to $20 billion is spent on unnecessary tests and examinations.

What Are The Symptoms Of Hypochondria?

Hypochondriasis tends to start in early adulthood or after you or someone close to you has suffered or died from a severe illness.

The symptoms vary, but the core symptom is constant and extreme anxiety about your health.

Other symptoms include;

  • Ascribing symptoms to serious diseases without proof, for instance, coughing may mean that they have lung cancer.
  • The person may also spend a lot of time online researching their symptoms or perceived disease.
  • Refusing to accept multiple test results that show they don’t have a disease because they are convinced they have the disease.
  • ‘Hospital shopping’ or going from one doctor to another in the hope of finding one that will confirm their fears.
  • Avoiding the hospital for fear of finding out they have a serious disease.
  • Frequent absence from work or social events because of regular visits to the doctor.
  • Health anxiety can also cause you to have symptoms like headache, dizziness, and stomach ache due to excessive worry.

What Causes Hypochondria?

While there is no clear-cut cause, some of the risk factors include:

  • Growing up with a family member who suffers from hypochondria
  •  A history of serious sickness in the past can increase your chances of developing hypochondria
  • A history of mental health illness.

How Can You Cope With Hypochondria?

  • Avoid googling your symptoms online because it often increases your anxiety without providing you with a definite answer. A simple google search about a headache may leave you thinking you may have a brain aneurysm!
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol as they can increase your anxiety.
  • Learn to differentiate normal body sensations from harmful symptoms.
  • Use Telemedicine By Hygeia HMO if you already have a plan that covers it or buy a telemedicine plan so you can speak to a psychologist about your symptoms and get professional help.

By Dr. Okonkwor Oyor C.

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