Date of Award
According to Webster's Dictionary, hypochondria means, a morbid condition characterized by the simulation of the symptoms of any several diseases. Convinced of a grave illness, the hypochondrians may suffer acutely, not only from the symptoms of the presumed disease but also from anxiety." Hypochondria is a mental disorder in which the affected person becomes obsessive about sickness and his health (or supposed lack of it). The person often becomes fearful of illnesses despite proof that he or she does not. Many times small symptoms of a common disease might be mistaken or exaggerated into something more severe (such as someone sighting a freckle and assuming that they have skin cancer). In other cases, patients think that they have a disease and through mind over matter, will begin to develop the correct symptoms as well as suffer from anxiety or melancholy. The technical medical term for this condition is Hypochondriasis. According to medical doctors, about six percent and ten percent of people who visit the doctor is suffering from hypochondria. Anyone can become a hypochondriac, no matter what their gender, age, or appearance. It is also quite common for medical students to become hypochondriacs after studying different kinds of rare and serious diseases. It may also be inherited genetically. Hypochondriacs many times have been cautious, anxious, or fearful of diseases all of their lives. It is just a condition that they are born with. Other times it can be brought on by a traumatic event in a person's life that leads them to feeling unsafe. Also, small fits of hypochondria can be brought on after hearing about a serious illness constantly, or learning about a disease in more depth. It can also be used to seek attention, withdraw from personal responsibilities. To be diagnosed with hypochondria, the patient must be convinced of fear that he has a serious disease for a least six months, even when given positive proof that he is healthy. This fear of disease must influence the persons' life negatively, and lead to medical treatment. The patient will only be able to temporarily accept that there is no explanation for his symptoms. The common symptoms that a hypochondriac will have include: - constantly visiting the doctor - fixated on a disease that no doctor has diagnosed them with - refusing to believe a doctor when they say nothing is seriously wrong with them - checking their bodies for strange oddities or symptoms often - being preoccupied with a disease that they saw on television or in the newspaper - being constantly concerned about sickness and pain - frequently thinking about death - thinking that doctors often misdiagnose serious illnesses - thinking that it is normal to feel completely well all of the time.
Many doctors do not think that hypochondria is a serious illness. In fact, they think that a disease can only occur in the body, or in the mind. So they classify hypochondria as a mental disorder, such as depression. However, since hypochondria affects both the mind and the body, they are unsure on how to approach it. However doctors are beginning to recognize that hypochondriacs are actually suffering and the disease is considered slightly higher than it previously was. Doctors think that hypochondria can be treated, although never fully cured because the anxiety can never fully disappear. The type of hypochondria which is easiest to treat is when it has not always been a part of the patient's life, in comparison to it being a part of their nature. The first step to being cured is for the patient to admit to themselves that they are overly anxious about their health. Over a period of time they have to realize that they do not actually have a physical disease, but it is all in their minds. Some doctors have used Prozac on their patients with positive results, which hints that hypochondria may be mainly in the mind. Some doctors use cognitive behavioral treatment, sometimes combined with medication. In the first consultation the patient explains their symptoms, and they make an evaluation whether they have been examined good enough. They never discuss the symptoms because they are subjective, and hence "accepted". However, they do discuss how to interpret the symptoms. They cannot imagine that symptoms that they have can be caused by anxiety During the treatment the patient can register the thoughts that go through their mind when they notice their physical symptoms. Hypochondriacs choose the most serious explanation. A headache is not a migraine or stress, but a brain tumor, chest pain is not caused by tense muscles, but is a serious heart attack and so on. These thoughts are then discussed and alternative explanations are tested out.
Wallace, T'Aire, "Is Hypochondria Really a Mental Disorder?" (2001). McCabe Thesis Collection. 8.