Hypochondria term is generally used as an umbrella term for two medical disorders named Somatic Symptom Disorder and Illness Anxiety Disorder.
Though, DSM – V (Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders -5th edition published in 2013) has replaced the term Hypochondria (also called as Hypochondriasis) with Somatic Symptom Disorder and Illness Anxiety Disorder (to accurately diagnose the disorder), the term is still in use in layman’s world.
So, let us learn some of the general hypochondria facts and what it is all about!
Hypochondria Facts: 1-5
1. Earlier, Hypochondria was considered as sadness without real cause and then it was considered as illness without any real cause.
2. The term hypochondria was derived from ancient Greek term “hypokhondrios” which means below the cartilage or the breastplate.
3. Ancient Greeks believed that melancholy spreads from the thoracic viscera of our body.
4. Hypochondria is actually an intense fear of having a disease or illness. In most cases, the patient knows that he has no disease at all, but he can not get over the anxiety or tension.
5. It is not to be confused with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). In OCD, the person is afraid of getting a disease or an infection but in hypochondria, the person is convinced that he has disease and is afraid of having that disease.
Hypochondria Facts: 6-10
6. It is likely that hypochondria is accompanied with some other disorder like bipolar disorder, depression or OCD. People suffering from such disorders are called hypochondriacs.
7. Hypochondriacs misinterpret the normal bodily functions and consider that they have some serious disease. They usually try to convince people that they have a particular disease(which may change as the “symptoms” change) and mostly the disease would be related to internal organs.
8. The classic characteristic of most of the hypochondriacs is that they never get assured with the reports or when doctors say that they have no physical illness. Yet another one is that some of the hypochondriacs get disappointed when they come to know that they don’t have any disease.
9. They frequently go to doctors for their physical ailments. They are extremely persistent that they have some serious disease and it becomes tough for the doctor to convince them.
10. They usually tend to change doctors frequently and some hypochondriacs become suspicious about the health care providers.
Hypochondria Facts: 11-15
11. It is not that they don’t feel the pain genuinely. They are stressed out in real but they fail to realize that the problem lies in their mental health, but not in their body.
12. They also tend to have lower than the normal threshold for pain tolerance. For small headaches, they may consider it as migraine.
13. The causes of hypochondria are not accurately known but psychologists jotted down the potential causes which include:
- Inability of a person to express himself or herself.
- Possible sexual abuse.
- Having some member of the family suffering or had suffered from hypochondria.
- Susceptibility of that person which is inherent.
14. Other causes can be: ‘person’s strong desire to be taken care of by someone’, ‘family upbringing like a hypochondriac’s mother might have been extremely worried about his or her health, which eventually led to hypochondria in that person’.
15. Another major cause can be the death of a person who is closely related to the hypochondriac.
Hypochondria Facts: 16-20
16. Social learning theory suggests that the person sticks to being sick because he will get free from all the responsibilities and duties.
17. Psychodynamic theory suggests that the hypochondriacs develop hostile thoughts towards others and then these thoughts change to physical complaints through displacement and repression.
18. There are a range of symptoms which are commonly seen in most of the hypochondriacs which are
- Frequent visits and change of doctors.
- Wish to undergo medical tests to prove their claim.
- Extreme focus on their health.
- Exaggerating small symptoms to a great extent and linking to some serious disease.
- Disbelief in doctors and medical professionals.
- Disbelief in technology used for the tests even though highly precise and most recent technology or tools are used to conduct the tests.
- Easily associating their symptoms with new outbreak or disease.
Note: it is not necessary for the person with hypochondria to show all the symptoms mentioned above.
19. The factors which increase the risk of getting hypochondria are:
- If any family member has hypochondria then the chances are higher that other person may unconsciously pick up those symptoms.
- If a person was sick as a child and he/she sees that everyone is showing attention to that person, it is highly likely that the person continues to show such behavior even if he is not sick genuinely.
- Death of any member of the family or friend will increase the chances of getting hypochondria.
- Social problems relating to finances, work or relationships with medical personnel increase chances of getting hypochondria.
- Personal problems like depression, anxiety, frustration, alcohol or drug abuse etc. increase the risk.
20. The test which is mostly used to find hypochondria is the Whiteley Test. The test contains 14 questions relating to your health, symptoms and your perception of medical professionals.
Hypochondria Facts: 21-25
21. There will be 5 options and each option carries different marks. After the test is conducted, the psychologist sums up the marks.
22. If the score is high, then the person is more hypochondriac and the lesser score denotes that he is not hypochondriac.
23. Scores for a hypochondriac usually ranges from 32 – 55 and for normal individuals the scores would be 14 – 28.
Note: it is to be kept in mind that the test result may vary on many things like your mood or other disorder, etc., so it is advised to check with a reputed psychologist or a psychiatrist before coming to a conclusion.
24. There are two ways to help hypochondriacs. The first one is called psychotherapy. The two most used ways are CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy. These two help the patient to rationalize his or her fears.
25. The other way is medication. Antidepressants like Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) are generally used. They help in reducing anxiety and stress.
Hypochondria Facts: 26-30
26. Alternative medicines like acupuncture, meditation, massage may help in reducing the stress and anxiety
27. Some herbs like kava kava, St. John’s Wort etc. may help, but consulting a doctor is necessary before consuming such herbs.
28. Hypochondriacs (people having hypochondria) generally believe that being healthy means complete absence of any pain or sensations from the body.
30. When comparing depression in Americans and Chinese, it was found out that Chinese expressed more physical symptoms and they had a difficult time agreeing to the fact that those symptoms emerged out of depression which eventually decreased when they took antidepressants.
Hypochondria Facts: 31-35
31. The usual physical complaints include skin problems, related to sex, insomnia, back pain, body odor, fear of becoming a hypochondriac.
32. Many hypochondriacs complain about pain and nearly 70 % of the time, the pain emerges from the left side of the body.
34. Did you know that there is a medical nickname for hypochondria? It is called GOMER – Go Out of My Emergency Room.
35. Ancient Greeks thought hypochondria was related to melancholy personality type which was caused by excessive secretion of black bile in people’s bodies (earlier Greeks believed that body secretes 4 humors – blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm).
Hypochondria Facts: 36-40
36. During middle ages, hypochondria took a religious turn and was called as ‘pusillanimata’ where people were not scared of having a disease or dying. Instead they were scared of going to hell.
37. In Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, he wrote about a hypochondriac man of Italy who was scared of urinating because he believed that if he urinated, the whole city would drown.
38. Robert Burton lied to him that the city was on fire and asked him to urinate to put the fire off. After he urinated, he was cured.
39. Around the 18th century, people termed hypochondria as ‘male hysteria’ and blamed spleen as the cause of the male hysteria. (Hysteria was believed to come from the womb and it was also called a wandering uterus or wandering womb).
40. Few of the famous people to have hypochondria are Charles Darwin, Charlos Brontë, Hand Christian Anderson, James Boswell, Glenn Gould, Howard Hughes, Andy Warhol etc.
Hypochondria Facts: 41-43
41. Did you know that nearly 45% of the Americans remain constantly worried of having a disease even though they don’t have any psychiatric disorder.
42. Nearly 1 % out of 14% of the patients have hypochondria and 10-20% of the healthy individuals worry extremely about their health.
43. As we said that in our previous article, hypochondria has been replaced with two other disorders, Somatic Symptom Disorder and Illness Anxiety Disorder.
75% of the earlier cases of hypochondria are diagnosed as Somatic Symptom Disorder where the patient shows somatic symptoms and the rest 25% of the cases are diagnosed as Illness Anxiety Disorder where there are no somatic symptoms.
Criteria for hypochondria (given in DSM – V)
- An individual obsessed with the thought that he is getting or he has some illness.
- Obsession going to extremes when there are somatic symptoms and/or any member of the family already having hypochondriac.
- Individuals being extremely worried about their health.
- An individual being obsessed about the thoughts of having a disease for more than six months.
- An individual’s obsession cannot be explained by any other mental disorder.
- An individual showing extreme behaviors to keep his health perfectly fine.