Hypochondria is a health anxiety disorder. It is often chronic. A person with hypochondria is often very anxious about their health. A hypochondriac fears that a real or imagined minor physical symptom is a sign of serious illness. Even when several doctors assure them otherwise, a hypochondriac is convinced that they have a serious disease. Psychiatric counseling and medications can relieve some, if not all, of the anxiety and suffering. Left untreated, hypochondria can be debilitating and affect daily function.
It is often difficult to identify a specific cause for hypochondria.
Factors that may increase your risk for getting hypochondria include:
Chemical imbalances and traumatic life experiences may contribute to the development of hypochondria.
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You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. If the exam shows no disease, your doctor may begin to suspect hypochondria. If further testing also fails to uncover a known medical condition, your doctor may diagnosis you with hypochondria if:
Effective treatment involves consistent, supportive care from one doctor, often along with a mental health professional. Finding a healthcare provider who is willing to listen to your concerns, provide support, and avoid needless testing is key to recovery.
You may feel overwhelmed by your symptoms. They may even seem to control your life. Schedule frequent visits, regardless of symptoms, with one doctor you can trust. Expect your doctor to:
Psychotherapy such as cognitive behavior therapy and behavioral stress management can be effective in treating hypochondria. This involves regular counseling with a psychotherapist to recognize false beliefs, understand anxiety, and stop anxious behaviors.
Antidepressant medications (such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors and tricyclic antidepressants) may help relieve the symptoms of hypochondria, but there is limited evidence.
There are no guidelines to prevent hypochondria because the cause is not known.
American Counseling Association
American Psychiatric Association
Canadian Mental Health Association
Canadian Psychological Association
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Greeven A, van Balkom AJ, et al. Cognitive behavior therapy and paroxetine in the treatment of hypochondriasis: a randomized controlled trial (Netherlands). Am J Psychiatry. 2007;164:91-99. Available at: http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/article.aspx?articleid=97690. Accessed November 11, 2014.
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Last reviewed December 2014 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 12/20/2014