Always Unwell? You May be a Hypochondriac

hypochindriacWe all get a persistent cough occasionally, but for a hypochondriac, that cough could be a sign of lung cancer. HEALTH further investigates this baffling condition:

What It Means

According to Clinical Psychologist Dr. Saliha Afridi, in hypochondria, patients believe that they are very sick and have a serious and perhaps life threatening disease. “Their concern interferes with their ability to perform important activities, such as work, school activities, or family and social responsibilities,” she explains. In fact, that person may even drop out of society, quit work, and stay in bed in fear that they are dying or be in search of a doctor who will confirm their illness.


The patient believes he has a disease such as stomach or colon cancer, or to nearly having a heart attack and any physical symptoms can be read by the patient as a confirmation of this; even a cough, a cold, or an episode of constipation. The patient, Dr. Afridi says, is always focused on his body and over sensitive about its signals. A central point of hypochondria is that these worries and wrong beliefs don’t stop even after several medical reassurances.


It appears equally in males and females, reports Dr. Saliha and can start anywhere between teenage years to mid adulthood. “The peak years for onset are between the 20s and 30s and has a lifetime prevalence of one to five percent,” she says. “Some theories exist which purport that as children the person may have had an overprotective parent who made major ordeals out of the person reporting minor complaints.”


A possible way of treatment is to try to make these people understand and feel that they deserve and can have love and attention without the need to be sick. If the patient can be convinced to attend therapy, then Dr. Afridi says that group therapy tends to reduce the “doctor shopping.” Recent research also suggests that individual cognitive behavioral therapy is also effective.


Often, these patients arrive at the psychologist after many medical consultations and exams such as colonoscopy, X-rays, electrocardiograms and so on. The person may complain of a brain tumor, and after all tests are done, Dr. Afridi explains they still feel that the doctor may have missed something, and they may go “doctor shopping” to get a confirmation of the diagnosis. “After the doctors have disconfirmed the diagnosis, the patient may be referred by their doctor
to visit the psychologist to address the psychological nature of the disorder,” she says. “However, most individuals with hypochondriasis do not come to the psychologist and take the referral by their doctor as a sign of the doctor being incompetent.”

You frequently find yourself silently diagnosing other people’s symptoms, best courses of treatment, and probable chances of survival.

Signs that you may be a hypochondriac:

You have memorized your doctor’s phone number, or have it listed under “Contacts” on your cell phone.

You take more than five nutritional supplements per day and/ or you can’t leave the house without one of those plastic pill dispensers with divided sections for all of your supplements.

The idea of an annual full body MRI “just in case” seems like a good idea.

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