The diagnosis of hypochondria must be given with caution and only when medical exams fail to point a real illness. An increased number of visits to the medical doctor, requests for second or third opinion regarding a disease the client believes is the cause of his symptoms (despite test results that show no relevant problems) or exaggerated preoccupation towards one’s health (nor sustained by medical data) can be indicators of hypochondria.
The signs and symptoms of hypochondria may be: an increased fear of illness, misinterpretation of normal bodily functions or harmless symptoms (such as a running nose, heart beats, sweating, small sores etc.), symptoms that shift or change, vague or specific symptoms, no apparent physical disorder that can explain the symptoms, at least six months of persistent disturbance.
Although the exact causes of this illness are not known, the risk factors include having a serious disease during childhood, the loss of a loved one, anxiety disorders, knowing persons with serious health problems, the belief that being in good health means that you are free of all physical symptoms and sensations, having members of the family that suffer from hypochondria and feeling vulnerable to illness.
Also, looking up (in books or over the internet) information on different symptoms or disease reinforces behaviors that make hypochondria persist or evolve. This disorder affects both men and women equally.
Hypochondria may be associated with other psychiatric disorders, such as major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder. It affects men and women equally.
Usually, this is a chronic disorder due to the fact that the client addresses first to medical doctors and only later seeks psychological help. However, starting the treatment earlier in the evolution might increase the rate of success. The options of treatment are psychotherapy and medication. Studies have shown that cognitive-behavioral therapy is more effective for hypochondria.
Understanding and recognizing the false or irrational beliefs that cause the health anxiety are key-points in the process of healing. The client will also learn to stop those behaviors that increase anxiety level, such as body vigilance (constantly paying attention to your bodily functions and problems that might occur).
Antidepressant medication may help during the treatment, but must be used with caution because the side effects can actually increase health anxiety.The impact hypochondria has on your life can be reduced by early recognition of the problem and getting the proper treatment method (and sticking to it!).