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Hypochondriacs are a Real Pain

Updated on September 2, 2015

Everybody knows one. They’re the person who constantly regales their circle of family and friends with talk about their newest aches and pains or medical condition. They are often so annoying people will cross the street to avoid them rather than be accosted by a comprehensive list of their ailments…real or imagined.

A hypochondriac is generally defined as a person affected with a psychological disorder, characterized by an excessive fear or anxiety and somatic apprehension, including attention to minute details of bodily functioning and exaggeration of symptoms, no matter how insignificant. They often arise after learning of them on TV, radio, in magazines or from an ailing acquaintance. A hypochondriac can frequently be identified by their inordinate number of medical exams or consultations.

However, hypochondriacs have a real psychological disorder. It is often chronic and sufferers are very anxious about their health. A hypochondriac fears even a minor physical symptom could be a sign of serious illness.

Even when reassured by physicians there is nothing wrong, a hypochondriac is firmly convinced there is. In actuality there is something seriously wrong…they are stricken with a condition known as hypochondriasis. Ironically, hypochondriacs can actually become sick and develop symptoms of a particular malady through excessive worry. Hypochondria occurs about equally in men and women. It can develop at any age, but most often starts in early adulthood.

Fortunately, there are treatment options available for those suffering from hypochondriasis. But left untreated, hypochondria can be seriously debilitating and affect daily functions. Psychiatric counseling and certain medications have been found to be helpful in relieving some, if not all, anxiety and suffering.

It's not certain why some are overwhelmed by perceptions they have a major, undiagnosed health issue. But the general medical consensus is personality, life experiences and inherited traits may play a major role. It’s difficult to identify a specific cause. Specialists tell us often a childhood illness, prior serious condition or even poor health of a loved one may be responsible. Other factors may also be involved. Risk factors include:

  • A family history of hypochondria
  • Psychiatric and personality disorders such as anxiety and depression
  • Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse during childhood
  • Witnessing violence
  • Death of someone close
  • Stressful experience with an illness or that of a loved one
  • Alcoholism and drug abuse

Even when reassured by physicians there is nothing wrong, a hypochondriac is firmly convinced there is. In actuality there is something seriously wrong…they are stricken with a condition known as hypochondriasis. Ironically, hypochondriacs can actually become sick and develop symptoms of a particular malady through excessive worry. Hypochondria occurs about equally in men and women. It can develop at any age, but most often starts in early adulthood.

Fortunately, there are treatment options available for those suffering from hypochondriasis. But left untreated, hypochondria can be seriously debilitating and affect daily functions. Psychiatric counseling and certain medications have been found to be helpful in relieving some, if not all, anxiety and suffering.

It's not certain why some are overwhelmed by perceptions they have a major, undiagnosed health issue. But the general medical consensus is personality, life experiences and inherited traits may play a major role. It’s difficult to identify a specific cause. Specialists tell us often a childhood illness, prior serious condition or even poor health of a loved one may be responsible. Other factors may also be involved. Risk factors include:

  • A family history of hypochondria
  • Psychiatric and personality disorders such as anxiety and depression
  • Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse during childhood
  • Witnessing violence
  • Death of someone close
  • Stressful experience with an illness or that of a loved one
  • Alcoholism and drug abuse

Signs one may be a hypochondriac can include:

  • Fearing minor symptoms are signs of something more serious
  • Frequently switching doctors to get a different diagnosis then “nothing is wrong”
  • Continuously talking about symptoms or suspected ailments with others
  • Numerous physical complaints that often change over time
  • Extensive research into specific illnesses and their symptoms
  • Major distress and worries interfere with social life or work
  • Believing a disease is present after reading or hearing about it

Treatment generally involves consistent care from a doctor, often in consultation with a mental health professional. Some studies have shown keeping a journal about what triggers anxiety can be extremely helpful. Additionally a doctor may prescribe some pharmacologic options. Some promising medications include fluoxetine, clomipramine, fluvoxamine, and imipramine.

An exercise program is another alternative. Not only is it physically healthy but it can relieve stress and contribute to one’s sense of well being.

Those having symptoms of hypochondria should consider talking to a mental health provider. However, not everyone worrying about health problems is a hypochondriac. Having symptoms of something a doctor can't diagnose can clearly cause anxiety, so in some cases a second opinion may be in order.

It’s important to note here, those searching for ailments matching their symptoms will more than likely find something. Minor ailments often have symptoms resembling more serious disorders. With the wealth of health information on the internet today, it’s easy to access information about everything that could possibly be wrong. That can needlessly fuel excessive anxiety. There's nothing wrong with being informed. That’s an important part of staying well.

Hypochondria symptoms may never completely disappear, but one can learn how to effectively cope with it.

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    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 4 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Popping back in to apologize for sounding as if I have no patience or empathy for people who have legitimate medical conditions which, like yours, they ignore until it's obvious something is seriously wrong.

      I should also add my mother was a prescription drug junkie who could've taught "street junkies" a thing or two about gaming the system. Thanks to great health insurance, she was a patient of three different doctors for relatively minor ailments, none of whom knew about the others until I asked one why he'd prescribed a certain drug contraindicated for use with others she was taking. She made sure each doctor sent her prescriptions to a different pharmacy, thereby bypassing the process intended to catch such abuse.

      I don't remember anyone ever describing her as a "hypochondriac" because she was cunning enough to restrict her complaints to conditions common to senior citizens. But thanks to watching her slowly kill herself by bombarding her body with "chemical cocktails" she probably didn't need, there's exactly one "drug" in my medicine cabinet: plain ol' aspirin.

      Sure, it takes a little longer now to get moving in the mornings, but that's a minor inconvenience compared to becoming a slave to Big Pharma.

    • glassvisage profile image

      glassvisage 4 years ago from Northern California

      Thanks for sharing this! I hadn't really thought of WHY people develop this sort of disorder; thanks for adding that in because I think it's important to think about that. I remember going through a time where I showed some of these signs - after reading through some of my mother's medical encyclopedias! I because manic about what was in the water I drank and other things.

    • k2jade31 profile image

      Kimberly Shelden 4 years ago from Idaho

      Great Hub! I actually grew up with hypochondriac, my mother. It is a difficult to be in the circle of constant worry, and unnecessary doctor visits and medication. Thanks for bringing attention to this issue in a eloquent manner.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Years ago, I knew a woman just like this. Not thinking, I made up this disease, told her the "symptoms" and the next day, she "had" it.

    • JY3502 profile image
      Author

      John Young 4 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Great comments from all of you. Guess I forgot to mention the attention angle, but then I think I may have short term memory loss...I studied up on it and have seen several doctors... he he

    • Sharkye11 profile image

      Jayme Kinsey 4 years ago from Oklahoma

      Haha. My Grandmother. Not a think wrong with her, doesn't fit the psychological profiling, yet everyday it is a new ailment. It does get tedious, and yes we do tend to try to avoid hypochondriacs as often as possible. I think the biggest danger of this ailment is that when they DO have a serious complaint, no one is willing to listen or to believe it anymore.

      Great hub with some excellent points covered!

    • eHealer profile image

      Deborah 4 years ago from Las Vegas

      What a great hub Jy, I have had the opportunity to meet many hypochondriacs in my practice an most would not take the medicine prescribed because they were afraid of the side effects! They do best with a doctor that they've known long term and that they've grown to trust. Great hub and very informative. Thanks JY! Up and Awesome~

    • izettl profile image

      Lizett 4 years ago from The Great Northwest

      JamaGenee~ I've been down this road. It's easy to classify hypochondriacs in one type as seeking attention, but honestly I never thought twice about my usual good health or complained about my health until I got Rheumatoid arthritis without cause or reason. What started as a swollen finger and 3 onths later was so bad that I couldn't walk was the beginnin of second guessing everything about my health.

      Then you have to take medications with a laundry list of side effects and you beign to wonder if something small that's bugging you is acutally something bigger.

      Fear is why people don't seek medical advice. Been there too. After 2 cancers scares in my life with a benign outcome from biopsies, i do worry about the little things having to do wih my health. Am I constantly seeking info everywhere about health conditions? no. But I understand why people would.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 4 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Having known a few hypochondriacs who were proven to be perfectly healthy, I'm of the opinion they're simply seeking the attention they didn't get from their parents in childhood or from spouses or significant others in adulthood. A doctor, after all, HAS to investigate their "symptoms", even if they prove false. But I'm most puzzled by those who constantly claim to have a long list of ailments but absolutely refuse to seek medical advice! Guess it takes all kinds! ;D