Are you a hypochondriac? Is the fear of illness ruining your life?

Being a hypochondriac is a real pain. Everyone worries about their health sometimes. But for some people, the fear of being sick is so strong, even when they are healthy, that they find it difficult to cope with their daily lives. A person who lives in fear of having a serious illness, despite medical examinations that never reveal anything wrong, may suffer from a symptomatic disorder. Also known as illness-related anxiety disorder. This disease is known by other names, including hypochondria.

What is it to be a hypochondriac?

The main symptom of hypochondria is excessive concern for health. The causes can vary and may be related to other legitimate health issues.
For most people, this is a temporary experience. The most common symptom in hypochondriacs is excessive health worry.

A study published in JAMA defines primary disorder as “a persistent fear or belief that one has a serious, undiagnosed medical illness.”
The authors note that it affects up to 5% of outpatients. In short, the disorder is a mental health condition where a person worries excessively about being sick, to the point that the anxiety itself is debilitating. Worrying about your health becomes an illness.

Being a hypochondriac is a chronic disease. Its severity may depend on age, a person’s tendency to worry, and the level of stress they face.

Main symptoms encountered in hypochondriacs

– Fear of normal functions

To a hypochondriac, normal bodily functions, such as heartbeat, sweating, and bowel movements, may seem like symptoms of a serious illness or condition. Fear of minor abnormalities: A runny nose, slightly swollen lymph nodes, or a small sore may seem like serious issues.

– Need for control: the hypochondriac needs to regularly check the body for signs of disease.

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– Some people’s attention may focus on a particular organ, such as the lungs.

– They can focus on a single disease, for example cancer.

– Or they may fear one disease after another.

– Talking about the disease regularly: the symptomatic disorder can cause people to talk excessively about their health.

– Visits to the doctor: they can visit their doctor frequently.

– Infatuation: they can spend a lot of time searching the Internet for symptoms of possible illnesses.

– No relief from test results: If the tests are negative, the person may not find relief. In fact, it can even make things worse. The patient increasingly fears that no one will believe him and that the problem will never be diagnosed and successfully treated.

– Avoiding the doctor: Some people with the disease avoid seeking treatment for fear of finding out that they have a serious illness.

– Avoidance: they can avoid people, places and activities that they think could pose a health risk.

– An irresistible fear of the disease that lasts more than 6 months can be a sign of a symptomatic disorder.

– Having a related psychological disorder, such as OCD or depression, increases the risk of symptomatic disorders.

Causes of hypochondria

The exact causes are not known, but some factors are likely involved:

– The belief

a misunderstanding of physical sensations, linked to a misunderstanding of how the body works

– Family

people who have a close relative with hypochondriasis are more likely to develop it themselves.

– Personal history

people who have had bad health experiences in the past may be more likely to develop a disproportionate fear of getting sick again.

– Links with other conditions

Other psychiatric disorders have been linked to symptomatic disorders. A high percentage of patients with hypochondria also suffer from major depression, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or generalized anxiety disorder.

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Hypochondriac and OCD

Research, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, points out that, like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), somatic symptom disorder involves a need for ongoing control, as the person seeks reassurance. These “safety behaviors,” according to the authors, aim to “restore a sense of well-being and some degree of certainty about the future.” However, they may end up making the problems they are supposed to reduce worse. By maintaining a high level of anxiety and preventing fears from dissipating. These behaviors keep the person’s attention on a feared potential catastrophe.

Since most patients tend to talk to their family doctor about the health issues they fear, rather than seeing a mental health specialist, they may never be diagnosed with symptomatic disorder.

Being a hypochondriac, how long does it last?

A person with hypochondriasis can spend months or years worrying about being sick. But she can also spend long periods in between not thinking about it. Patients whose disorder is transient are less likely to have serious psychiatric problems or anxiety disorders. But they are more likely to have medical problems.

Recovery is more common in people of higher socioeconomic status. If a patient suffers from depression or anxiety, and these respond well to treatment, they too are more likely to see a good outcome. There is evidence that people with a personality disorder may have a harder time recovering. Because somatic disorder is a relatively new disorder, few statistics are available.

Being a hypochondriac: when does it start in life?

The symptomatic disorder usually begins in early adulthood. It can appear during recovery from a serious illness, or after a loved one or friend becomes ill or dies. An underlying medical condition can trigger a symptomatic disorder. A patient who suffers from heart disease, for example, may assume the worst whenever faced with something that might be heart disease-related.

Other factors include increased stress or greater exposure to information about a disease in the media. Sometimes a person begins to worry excessively about his health when he approaches the age when one of his parents died. Especially if the death of the parent was premature.

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Psychologists find that sufferers are often self-critical or perfectionist, or both. They may perceive “health” as a complete absence of pain or discomfort. While some aches and pains are normal for most people.

It has been suggested that hypochondriacs may have a low pain threshold, and may notice internal sensations earlier than other people.

Being a hypochondriac, you can get out of it: Treatment and lifestyle

Research published in JAMA has indicated that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be helpful in treating hypochondriasis. CBT can help the patient rationalize their fears. SSRIs can reduce the level of anxiety through medication.

These include avoiding stimulants such as coffee, alcohol, and tobacco, practicing mindful meditation, and eating healthy. Herbs said to reduce anxiety include St. John’s wort and kava kava. It is best to consult a doctor before using herbs, as some herbal remedies may react with medications or have other side effects.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th edition), P316-317. Available from

Barsky, AJ & Ahem, DK (2004). Cognitive behavior therapy for hypochondriasis: A randomized controlled trial. JAMA

Hypochondriasis. (2014, December 9)

Olatunji, BO, Deacon, BJ & Abramowitz, JS (2009, May). Is hypochondriasis an anxiety disorder? The British Journal of Psychiatry 194 (6) 481-482


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