Hypochondria is a psychic disorder, which manifests itself by intensive and excessive concern for his or her health with focus on the physical part and conviction about one's serious (even though actually non-existent) disease. However, the hypochondriac subjectively truly experiences such fictional disease. This disorder manifests itself in a full scale in approximately 1% of the population, 9% suffer from milder signs, but up to 20% of the population has an increased concern for its health. This sickness manifests itself in men and women evenly. First signs usually develop in early adulthood, nevertheless, older people also suffer from this disease. Hypochondria usually peaks at about 30 years of age in men and ten years later in women.
A person, suffering from hypochondria, becomes obsessed with the idea that he or she is suffering from one or more serious diseases. A different, truly experienced disease can become a trigger of hypochondria. Even after a person is able to overcome it and becomes healthy again, the relief does not come, he or she is still concerned about the disease in his or her thoughts and the concerns escalate to conviction that he or she is suffering from a different, serious disease, which has not yet been discovered by the doctors.
Possible causes of hypochondria
Causes of the hypochondria can originate in childhood. Experts warn parents not to connect child's illness with a reward of any kind. On the basis of such events, the ill child might begin to try to manipulate with its parents. Adult hypochondriac can try to manipulate his or her employer on the basis of the illness – it is customary to treat the ill person with consideration in comparison to a healthy individual.
There are some opinions stating that manner of parenting can cause hypochondriac disorder. This is especially true if children learn that when they are ill, they can do things they usually cannot do or if they are rewarded – the period of illness should not be more pleasant than sound health. Another theory states that the oldest children tend to suffer from hypochondria, because the inexperienced mothers focused on their health much more than in the case of a second child.
Fictional, non-existent disease can become a cover-up for a different, true problem, which the person in question has no interest to deal with for whatever reason. This condition is called escape into illness. The ill people often prescribe themselves treatment and medication, they start using many vitamins and food supplements and in addition, they gather information about their fictional illness. They study books and internet articles and they often undergo many different examinations by various doctors to confirm their hypothesis.
The name hypochondria originates in ancient Greece. Physicians of that time described hypochondrium, the area under ribs, as a source of difficulties of patients suffering from hypochondria or depression. It is the place which even today many patients suffering from hypochondria state as the origin of their problems.
Signs of hypochondria
Long-term and intensive focus on one's own health and permanent self-observation are the usual signs of hypochondria. Despite physician's confirmation of sound health, the hypochondriac keeps observing himself and refuses the mental nature of the problem. He or she exaggerates common problems, such as headaches, stomach aches or fatigue.
If any problems appear, a person suffering from hypochondria also likes to start studying articles on the internet or to visit a library to search for as much information about those problems as possible. He or she usually diagnoses the worst scenarios. Any pain is ought to scare a hypochondriac, he or she attributes minor stomach aches to starting stomach cancer or extensive problems with the digestive tract.
Hypochondriac is very often afraid of touching items other people touched with bare hands and they are afraid of banalities such as doorknobs. Sometimes they also bring their own knife, fork and spoon into restaurants and while visiting other people. Excessive hygiene is also common in hypochondriacs. Excessive consumption of medicine and drugs for any illness is also another sign. His or her first aid is full of various medicines, they also have a lot of medicaments to improve their immunity, they constantly drink healthy teas and they own various diagnostic equipment.
Hypochondriacs also often excessively care for and focus on their body, monitor changes of their skin and repeatedly inspect and check their birthmarks. They also constantly listen to sounds their body produces and they attribute excess significance to them. They also watch news about epidemics meticulously, they like to talk about them and expect to become one of its first victims. They tend to smear their surroundings of spreading bacilli and viruses. They can also get themselves to believe that they are in pain.
Hypochondria self-help treatment
It is frequent and common for the hypochondriacs to try one healing method after another. Anything from medicinal to home treatments. They should especially be supported by their surroundings. How can a family member or a friend help them?
Let the hypochondriac unburden him or herself a little, but do not pay them a lot of attention, so that they don't get confirmation of their imaginary illness. Support him or her in searching for other activities, because they can take hypochondriac's mind off of his or her illness. Appreciate their behaviour, which is not connected to health and commend them for positive achievements. Do not recommend further treatments and examinations, rather recommend a group therapy. People suffering from hypochondria like to vent their feelings.
If the hypochondria is caused by real anxiety or depression, then it is suitable for the physician to prescribe anxiolytics or antidepressants. The anxiety can also be decreased by regular check-ups at a physician. If the physician does not find anything serious, psychological therapy should be the next step.
Prevention of hypochondria is not easy. It is helpful to buy the hypochondriac a pet, because the need to care for another family member drives him or her away from concerns about his illness. It gives life a completely new angle and dimension. Exercise is also a good form of prevention. Regular exercise induces feelings of satisfaction and yoga or dance is also recommended. If a person lives an active and varied life, then he or she does not have enough time to focus on and exaggerate their problems.
Treatment of hypochondria
The therapy is complex and difficult, and even though a mental disorder has to be treated, patients insist on somatic problems.
After the possibility of real illness is eliminated, the treatment can begin. Currently, psychotherapy is the preferred way. Psychotherapeutic approach is applied either in a group therapy or in a session with an expert, who gives the patients an opportunity to talk and discuss their problems instead of prescribing medicines and ordering various examinations. Such an interview then also concerns his or her private life and interpersonal relationships and various connections can be found in this way. Regular check-ups decrease patient's anxieties and deepen the feeling of calm and safety.
This kind therapy is usually quite demanding in terms of time, but it helps. In addition, it limits the risk of possible handicap, caused by frequent and exhausting examinations. In this way, illness progress into chronicity is prevented.
The goal of the psychotherapy is to teach the patients to handle their concerns and not to demand repeated assurances of their sound health by physicians. Physician teaching the patient how to handle his or her anxiety in a better and more independent way is yet another step of the therapy.
Possible complications of hypochondria
Stress or difficult situations often worsen the hypochondria. In addition, this disorder is risky, because it can go on for years without being discovered and the mentally ill individual is repeatedly examined by various specialists without any result. Such examinations are often expensive, they stress the patient and the hypochondria can develop to chronicity.
We can encounter hypochondria in literature and film as well. Molière has described a hypochondriac quite fittingly in the comedy named The Imaginary Invalid.
In a world of film, we can encounter hypochondria for example in Woody Allen's film Hannah and her sisters.
Some famous personalities have also suffered from hypochondria, these were for example modern philosophers René Descartes, Voltaire, Immanuel Kant, Arthur Schopenhauer and Karl Marx.