Hypochondria – When Health Anxiety Goes Too Far

Of the many anxiety disorders documented, health anxiety is one with many definitions. Some medical experts classify health anxiety as part of the family of obsessive-compulsive disorders. Other experts view it as a disease or illness phobia instead. Still other therapists see health anxiety as another name for hypochondria. Whatever category you choose to put this disorder in, health anxiety is a preoccupation with your health. When this worry and fear about being physically ill becomes excessive, many therapist believe the disorder is now hypochondria.

What is Health Anxiety?

With most people who have health anxiety, they misinterpret common physical aches and pains as signs of a serious illness. A few mild headaches makes the person think he has a brain tumor. For other people, simply forgetting a name or a birthday may indicate the beginning of dementia or Alzheimer’s. With health anxiety a person worries about every physical change in her body and always fears the worst possible outcome such as a fatal disease. Those with health anxiety may also think they have a disease after reading about symptoms of a medical condition in a magazine or when watching a television drama, especially medical shows.

What is Hypochondria?

Hypochondria takes health anxiety a step further. Instead of just worrying about having a disease or physical ailment, the person is convinced he has problems and seeks medical attention to confirm his suspicions. A hypochondriac may see several doctors or specialists, demand expensive tests such as MRIs in order to find the elusive disease. When tests come back normal, the person is still not convinced. He continues to visit doctors in the hopes that one of them will finally uncover his health problem. When the doctors tell him he is physically healthy, the hypochondriac tells himself that the doctors are incompetent or the test results are all wrong.

People with hypochondria frequently examine their bodies looking for rashes, new moles, lumps and any other physical changes. In some situations, a person may even ask family members to check areas of their bodies they can’t see well. For some people, chronic worrying actually leads to physical symptoms such as tightness in the chest, sweating, increased heart beat or dizziness. These symptoms only reinforce the belief that they are truly sick.

With health anxiety and hypochondria, the best course of action is therapy with a person experienced in treating anxiety disorders and/or phobias. While anxiety disorders can affect a person’s life in many ways, hypochondria can take over a person’s life, robbing her of any joy. A trained therapist helps those sufferers to overcome their irrational fears and worries.

By C. J. Newton, MA, Therapists.com Editor

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