Maybe someone has called you a hypochondriac – or you think you know someone who might be. But what defines hypochondria? Here, we’ll discuss the signs and symptoms of hypochondria, what can cause it, and how it can be treated.
What Is Hypochondria?
Hypochondria, also known as illness anxiety disorder, is a chronic mental health condition where a person lives in a constant fear that they have (or will contract) a severe illness despite having little to no symptoms. For example, they believe that a cough or stuffy nose is a symptom of a terrible or life-threatening condition. Those who deal with hypochondria suffer from severe anxiety.
Types of Hypochondria
Hypochondriacs fall into two categories; they are either care-seeking or care-avoidant.
- Care-seeking: People who spend a lot of time seeking advice from specialists and medical testing.
- Care-avoidant: People who typically don’t trust medical experts or believe that doctors won’t take their symptoms seriously, which may create more anxiety.
Causes of Hypochondria
You may be asking yourself, what brings on this anxiety disorder? Unfortunately, experts don’t know why hypochondria develops but believe the following experiences can cause someone to be more prone to it:
- Experiencing illness as a child.
- Having parents who had anxiety over their own health or a child’s health.
- Having certain discomforts that cause uneasiness or difficulty tolerating bodily sensations, which they may misinterpret as being more serious than it is.
- A period of high stress.
- The possibility of a serious illness that, in turn, is not serious.
- History of childhood trauma or abuse.
- The personality trait of being a worrier.
- Excessively researching health-related sites.
If you suspect you or someone you know is a hypochondriac, look for signs such as:
- Regularly talking about being sick or illnesses.
- Frequent doctor visits.
- Fear of minor symptoms or abnormalities that are not symptoms of severe illness.
- Showing increased concern for normal bodily functions.
- Not trusting medical test results or losing trust in medical professionals.
One way to overcome hypochondria is by seeking help from a mental health professional. The following are approaches an expert can take to assist with treating this anxiety disorder:
- Exposure therapy to teach stress management.
- Prescribing anti-anxiety medications such as antidepressants, benzodiazepines, or reuptake inhibitors.
- Therapy, specifically cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can help reduce fear in patients. People learn to understand and identify their mistaken beliefs that are creating anxiety. Research shows that patients that undergo CBT treatment have significantly lower hypochondriacal symptoms, thoughts, and attitudes.
If someone in your life deals with illness anxiety disorder, reach out and offer your support. If you are dealing with hypochondria, know that you are not alone, and there are multiple pathways to find healing.