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Hypochondriasis, sometimes referred to as health anxiety or health phobia is a somatoform disorder in which one has the unfounded belief that one is suffering from a serious illness. It is based on misinterpreting normal body sensations. Mild, occasional preoccupation with disease is quite common. In hypochondriasis, the person's concerns about having a serious disease are often based on a misinterpretation of normal bodily functions. This fear of disease or preoccupation with symptoms is unpleasant, interferes with the patient's daily life in a negative way and leads to medical examinations and/or treatment. For instance, an occasional change in heart rate or a feeling of dizziness upon standing up will lead a person with hypochondriasis to fears of heart disease or stroke. Sometimes hypochondriacal fears develop after the death of a friend or family member, or in response to reading an article or seeing a television program about a disease. Their apparent distrust of their physicians' opinions can cause tensions in doctor-patient relationships, leading to the patient's further dissatisfaction with health care providers. Physicians who regularly see a patient with hypochondriasis may become skeptical about any reported symptom, increasing the danger that a real illness may be overlooked. An estimated 75% to 85% of those who have hypochondriasis also have anxiety, depression, or another mental disorder.

Hypochondriasis occurs most commonly between the ages of 20 and 30 and appears to affect both sexes equally. Hypochondria is often characterized by irrational fears of being diseased/dying, obsessions over minor bodily symptoms or imperfections, doubt and disbelief in doctors' diagnosis, constant self-examination and self-diagnosis and pre-occupation with one's body. The patient can only temporarily accept assurance that there is no physical explanation to his symptoms. The fears appear to develop in response to minor physical abnormalities, like fatigue , aching muscles, a mild cough or a small sore. People with hypochondriasis may also interpret normal sensations as signs of disease. Examination and reassurance by a doctor do not relieve their concerns; people with hypochondriasis tend to believe that the doctor has somehow failed to find the underlying disease. It is not to be confused with Munchausen syndrome or other Factitious disorders , in which an individual intentionally fakes, exaggerates, or induces mental or physical illnesses, in order to assume the role of a "patient". People with hypochondriasis also run the risk of undergoing unnecessary medical tests or receiving unneeded medications. Although they are usually not physically disabled, they may take frequent sick days from work, or annoy friends and family with constant conversation or complaints about illness, reducing their ability to function effectively in some aspects of life.

Causes of Hypochondriasis

The common Causes of Hypochondriasis :

  • A person suffering from hypochondria is preoccupied with physical health and has an unrealistic fear of serious disease well out of proportion to the actual risk.
  • There is no specific cause of hypochondria, and it occurs in men and women with equal frequency.
  • Having overly protective parents that focused too much on your minor health problems.
  • Children might learn this behavior if a parent is overly concerned about disease and/or overreacts to even minor illnesses.
  • A poor ability to express emotions.
  • An inherited susceptibility for the disorder.

Symptoms of Hypochondriasis

Some common Symptoms of Hypochondriasis :

  • Preoccupation with fear of illness
  • Misinterpretation of symptoms.
  • The preoccupation persists despite appropriate medical evaluationa nd reassurance.
  • Multiple physical complaints that often change over time.
  • Symptoms that may shift and change.
  • The duration of the disturbance is at least 6 months.
  • Disturbance lasting for at least 6 months (24 weeks).

Treatment of Hypochondriasis

  • There is some evidence that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and antidepressants can alleviate severe hypochondria.
  • A supportive relationship with a health care provider is the mainstay of treatment.
  • Psychotherapy (a type of counseling) can be helpful in changing the thinking and behavior that contribute to the symptoms. Therapy also can help the person learn better ways to deal with stress, and improve his or her social and work functioning. Unfortunately, most people with hypochondriasis deny there are any mental or emotional problems, making them fairly resistant to psychotherapy.
  • Effective treatment involves consistent, supportive care from one doctor, often in consultation with a mental health professional.
  • Educate the patient regarding the manifestations of hypochondriasis.
  • If the patient needs access to the sick role, access should not be contingent upon symptoms or demonstration of preoccupation with illness.
  • Antidepressant or anti-anxiety drugs are sometimes used if a person with hypochondriasis also has a mood disorder or anxiety disorder.