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Hypochondria - Hypochondriasis

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Hypochondriasis is an abnormal fear of having a serious medical condition. This concern persists even though medical exams rule out any actual illness.

What is going on in the body?

People who have this condition feel very anxious. They suffer from physical symptoms even though there is no physical illness present. Individuals with this condition continue to believe they are seriously ill even when the healthcare provider tells them they are well.

What are the causes and risks of the disease?

This condition occurs in both men and women. It is not clear what causes the problem. This condition may occur more often in people who:

  • were sick or had sick family members during childhood
  • were victims of child abuse
  • have various other psychological disorders
  • abuse drugs or alcohol

  • Symptoms & Signs

    What are the signs and symptoms of the disease?

    The person is convinced that he or she has a have a serious disease. Individuals with this condition will often be well informed about illnesses, diagnoses and treatments. Usually, they have had seen several healthcare providers as they try to discover the cause for their symptoms. Symptoms may be very vague or quite specific. The exact symptoms can vary and shift, but may include:

  • sleep disorders such as insomnia
  • sexual dysfunction, including erectile dysfunction
  • stomach problems such as bloating, belching, and cramps
  • Other characteristics of hypochodriasis include:

  • anxiety
  • symptoms that are present for at least 6 months
  • excessive concern over having a disease, so that it interferes with normal functioning. For example, the person may not be able to go to school or work.

  • Diagnosis & Tests

    How is the disease diagnosed?

    The person will first have medical exam and tests to rule out actual physical disease. If no disease is found, the diagnosis can be made through a psychological evaluation.

    Prevention & Expectations

    What can be done to prevent the disease?

    There is no known prevention. When a child is ill, parents should not reward sick behavior with special attention and privileges. When the child is well, parents should give children adequate love and attention.

    What are the long-term effects of the disease?

    The long-term effects are mostly related to the symptoms. People with this condition do not have the serious physical disease they think they do. However, symptoms may be severe. The person may be unable to go to work or school. The problem may also put stress on personal relationships.

    What are the risks to others?

    This condition poses no physical risk to others. However, it may be hard for family members to deal with the affected person. People with this condition may demand attention and be difficult to live with. The family may even need counseling to help handle the situation.

    Treatment & Monitoring

    What are the treatments for the disease?

    A person with this disease has real symptoms even if there is no underlying illness. The first goal of treatment is to reduce these symptoms. A healthcare provider may continue to see the person to treat their symptoms. Counseling for the person and the family is essential. People with this condition have a hard time accepting that they do not have a serious physical illness. Medications such as tranquilizers may help the person cope with feelings of anxiety. Medications may also be used to treat any depression.

    What are the side effects of the treatments?

    Tranquilizers and other medications all have potential side effects, including drowsiness. Alcohol must be avoided while taking tranquilizers. Usually, the greatest risk to the person with this condition is having surgery or other unnecessary treatments. Time and money can be wasted on unneeded visits to healthcare providers.

    What happens after treatment for the disease?

    This condition does not respond well to treatment. Most people with hypochondriasis will always believe that they have a serious disease. They may go from one healthcare provider to another to try to get help for their symptoms.

    How is the disease monitored?

    Both a primary healthcare provider and a mental health professional usually monitor the disease. The provider will continue to treat the symptoms that the person has. The mental health professional will provide counseling for the person and the family. Regular follow-up visits can help people deal with symptoms.

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