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January 5, 2012

What is Hypochondria?

The American Psychological Association claims five-percent of all U.S. adults suffer from hypochondria. Hypochondria is a mental illness where a person worries and fears they're seriously ill, despite all contradicting medical evaluations and assurances. Hypochondriacs misinterpret normal bodily functions or minor health issues as signs that something very serious is wrong. For example, a hypochondriac may misplace his wallet and become convinced that he's developed Alzheimer's disease; or he might be certain a standard headache is really a brain tumor. Hypochondriacs tend to exacerbate their condition by obsessively consuming medical research, frequently checking their vital signs, such as temperature and heart rate, and by regularly scouring their bodies for lumps, sores, or other problems. When doctors reassure them nothing's wrong, hypochondriacs may go "doctor shopping," looking for practitioners who believe them that they're sick. Hypochondriacs can get so obsessed that their work, family and social lives suffer. And 60-percent of people with this condition also suffer from another mental illness, namely major depression or an anxiety disorder. Doctors find that a history of physical or sexual abuse may foreshadow hypochondria. Growing up with a hypochondriac parent, or having a serious illness, as a child is also a factor. Whatever the cause, hypochondria is tough to treat, as patients have a hard time admitting that their problems are mental, not physical. Talk therapy is the most common treatment for people seeking help. In therapy, patients learn how to change the thinking and behaviors behind their symptoms. Certain medications, like Lexapro, Paxil and other antidepressants in the selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitor class, are also helpful. The goal of treatment is not to cure hypochondria, but help the patient live as normally as possible, even if symptoms continue. If you or a loved one seems to suffer from hypochondria, make an appointment to see a mental health professional.

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Last Updated:
December 20, 2012