A morbid preoccupation with one’s state of health

  • Most common between the ages of 20 and 30
  • Long-term illness in childhood, close contact with people who are seriously ill, and stress are risk factors
  • Gender and genetics are not significant factors

People who suffer from hypochondriasis are constantly anxious about their health and interpret all symptoms, no matter how minor, as indications of serious illness. They may be concerned about a combination of symptoms or a single symptom, such as a headache.

Inevitably, the disorder leads to frequent visits to the doctor to have tests. Even when the results are negative, people affected by hypochondriasis remain convinced that they are seriously ill. They may reject the doctor’s findings and react with strong feelings of frustration and hostility. Frequently, their anxiety about illness causes problems with relationships, work, and social life.

Somatization is a related condition in which psychological problems are expressed as physical symptoms.

Hypochondriasis is most common between the ages of 20 and 30 and may be a complication of other psychological disorders, such as depression or anxiety (see Anxiety disorders). Often, the cause is unknown, but people who were very ill in childhood or who have prolonged contact with someone with a long-term illness are more susceptible. Stress increases the risk of the disorder developing.

What might be done?

The doctor will first look for and treat any underlying psychological disorders. For example, he or she may prescribe antidepressant drugs for depression. The doctor will avoid unnecessary tests by reassuring the person that he or she does not have a serious illness and will explain normal body reactions if the person is mistaking responses, such as rapid heartbeats during exercise, for signs of serious illness. In some people, cognitive–behavioural therapy and behaviour therapy can be helpful.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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