The word hypochondriasis is derived from ancient Greek word hypochondria . It is made up of hypo-, meaning “under,” and khondros (khondria is the neuter pleural), meaning “cartilage”, specifically the cartilage of the breastbone. The word reflects the belief that the viscera of the hypochondria was the source of vapor that caused anxiety and melancholy. Hypochondriasis is the modern medical term for the condition and hypochondria is considered the lay term. Hypochondriasis is a disorder in which the patient misinterprets normal bodily symptoms such and a headache, or a cough as much more serious diseases.
A typical hypochondriac may interpret symptoms of the common cold as symptoms of lung cancer. He/she may go to the doctor, be tested for different diseases, only to seek help from different physicians when the results turn up negative. Hypochondria is on the spectrum of anxiety disorders, but also has traits of somatization disorders. However, a hypochondriac’s chief focus is not symptoms, but the cause of them. Hypochondria has been around since ancient times and is one of the oldest disorders documented. as been considered the male counterpart to hysteria, since hysteria was considered the symptom of a andering uterus and only females could have that. It is now known that hypochondria affects both men and women in equally serious ways. Although hypochondria is a serious disorder, it has been a popular subject in humor. Hypochondriacs are often stereotyped as being quirky individuals, constantly suffering from an imaginary ailment, sometimes going to comical lengths to cure themselves. In addition to being stigmatized by society, hypochondriacs may also have difficulties with physicians.
They tend to be very demanding patients, booking frequent appointments, demanding nnecessary tests and treatment. Hypochondriacs may even have four or five doctors with whom they go back and forth seeking different opinions. They may also have difficulties with family and friends due to their constant maladies. They may go into debt due to medical expenses, and be very emotionally demanding. Unfortunately, there is not much known about the causes of hypochondria at the moment. However, life experiences, such as a family member becoming seriously ill, an acute awareness to physical feeling, and predisposition to anxiety all may play a role.
Most hypochondriacs will also suffer rom other anxiety disorder such as panic disorders, generalized anxiety disorder and obsessive compulsive disorders. My experience with hypochondria happened after my father became ill with lung cancer. I had always been an anxious person, and have always had a slight preoccupation with my health. I have found that I display very similar trait to someone suffering with obsessive compulsive disorder. For instance, when I experience a new “symptom,” I must examine myself periodically in order to soothe myself.
Unfortunately, this cycle only perpetuates the condition. It causes a sort of positive feedback eaction, which in turn causes me to examine more and more, until it gets to the point where I must go to the doctor or the emergency room. In the modern world, a common trigger for hypochondria is the internet. “Cyberchondria” is a colloquial term describing someone who searches symptoms on the internet. Websites such as WebMD provide information on many disease. A hypochondriac may mistakenly match their symptoms up with serious diseases and become very distressed.
In my experience, there are many times where I have looked up not only symptoms, but for support groups discussing hypochondria. It has helped, but in any ways has also made the anxiety worse. Many times, I have found, support group will end up becoming a gathering of hypochondriacs feeding off of each other’s disorders, giving bad advice and triggering anxiety. At the moment, the best treatment for hypochondria is a mix of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy. Generally, an antidepressant will be prescribed. Current research has been showing positive results from fluoxetine, an SSRI also known as Prozac.
I will be discussing the cognitive behavioral therapy approach. Cognitive behavioral therapy is an approach that focuses on the thoughts and behaviors associated with hypochondria. It is also used for the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder and panic disorders. Since hypochondria has similarities between the two, it is believed to be an effective treatment. Many of the behaviors of hypochondria are associated with anxiety due to a perceived threat. The intensity of the anxiety will generally vary from a small feeling of discomfort to a full blown panic attack.
In my experience, the hypochondria first started with a panic attack, which I believed was due to a heart attack at the time. I had an intense tightness in my chest, a lightheaded feeling, as though I were bout to faint, which is a partially loss of vision (also known as a gray out). After the initial attacks, I experienced chest pains every so often and still associated them with heart issues, even though I had gone to the emergency room twice. One behavior, which is strikingly similar to obsessive compulsive disorder is checking.
A hypochondriac may check his pulse, examine himself, weigh himself frequently due to the fear of wasting away. Sometimes, checking may even exacerbate symptoms, such as someone constantly. feeling for signs of oral cancer may cause sores due to irritation. When I have checked myself, it has often involved using a home blood pressure monitor as well as feeling for lumps and swollen glands. It tends to be a compulsion, and often becomes habitual. Often, it is very difficult to treat hypochondria, since the patients tend to be so convinced that there is something gravely wrong.
One of the biggest roadblocks in treatment is reassurance seeking. As mentioned before, a hypochondriac will seek tests hoping for a negative result. He may also seek alternative treatments such as homeopathy. When a hypochondriac receives this reassurance, it will merely perpetuate the condition. Similar to checking, a hypochondriac will learn that this behavior will provide a temporary ease to the anxiety. After the initial feelings of calmness have worn off, the hypochondriac will feel the need to seek further reassurance, and so the cycle continues.
I have often sought reassurance through doctor’s visits. There was a time when I was experiencing tightness in my chest which at times made it difficult to breath. I ended up making an appointment with the doctor, who, since I was a smoker, gave me a chest X-ray. The results came back normal, and surprisingly my symptoms went away for quite some time. For about a month, my hypochondria was relatively tame. Then, I started experiencing new symptoms. This time it was a feeling of a lump in my throat. This started a new cycle of reassurance seeking. Finally, a less apparent behavior is avoidance.
This is when a hypochondriac will avoid activities that perpetuate symptoms. For a long time, during my heart problem phase, I had a love-hate relationship with physical exercise. I tended to avoid any intense exercise that would bring my heart rate over 110 beats per minutes due to the fear of a deadly arrhythmia. I would often get up and flee the ym when this happened. Now, I would like to bring attention to the cognitive side of hypochondria. One of the most outwardly apparent symptoms of hypochondria is preoccupation. Most hypochondriacs are preoccupied by their perceived ailments much of the time.
This is the factor that may take the most emotional toll on relationships. A hypochondria will rarely have a conversation where her health is not brought up at least once. It is also very distressing for the hypochondriac, who may not be able to fully enjoy herself due to her health concerns constantly being in the back of her mind. A hypochondriac may also be very acutely aware of his own bodily sensations. Bodily focusing is when a hypochondriac focuses intently on his physical sensations. This can be closely linked with the behavior checking. However, one must be careful not to confuse the two.
Generally, when a hypochondriac becomes acutely aware of physical sensations, it will be around the area of concern. This keen awareness has played a key role in my hypochondria. Due to the increased awareness of my head and neck areas, I have often felt as though a simple neck ache was actually pain from a malignant tumor on a lymph node. Indeed, awareness of my physical sensations has been an enormous trigger to a long session of self-examination. Selective attention is when a hypochondriac will only pay attention to sources of information which confirm his worst fears.
Often a hypochondriac will stay up until the wee hours of the morning reading medical texts, however I negative test result from the doctor will be promptly ignored and forgotten about. Over time, hypochondria may lead to depression due to the belief that there is a serious illness present. I have experienced some terrible depressive symptoms. I have stayed up thinking about oing through chemotherapy, disfiguring, even imagining my own funeral. Fortunately for the hypochondriac, there is hope. With the right therapist, cognitive behavioral therapy may be a highly effective treatment for hypochondria.
However, in order for to work, the patient must be engaged in treatment. It may be very difficult to engage a patient in treatment due to the patient being put into treatment semi-involuntarily. Often, a patient will seek therapy due to ultimatums from love ones, or a doctor’s refusal to treat the patient any further until he has undergone psychological evaluation. Therefore, the therapist must proceed with caution. I must, however, remark that many hypochondriacs are keenly aware of their condition and seek help voluntarily. Unfortunately, this does not make treatment very much easier.
During treatment, the patient will often be asked to do some self-monitoring. A typical approach would be to have the patient keep a daily journal on her physical symptoms and thoughts. This is helpful because the therapist can monitor the patient’s daily experience, and can provide prompts for discussion. Cognitive restructuring is the part of the treatment where the therapist will ask the patient to note ll of the evidence he has for being ill, as well as the evidence against it. The therapist will then inform the patient of the cognitive errors, as well as teach rational responses to situations where anxiety is provoked.
The therapist will also have the patient come up with his own rational responses. The therapist will then construct behavioral experiments in order to test out responses. I have found that citrus drinks such as orange juice and lemonade promote phlegm build up in my throat. This has helped me realize, through seeing an actual cause, that it would be highly irrational to believe that there is any ort of growth in my throat. If avoidance is present, a therapist may use exposure and reassurance prevention. A patient may be exposed to a light trigger such as exercise.
The patient will then be taught to react appropriately to the symptoms present. On top of this, it is important to prevent the patient from seeking out reassurance. Family members may be instructed to say something such as “I’m sorry, but I’m not able to answer that question. ” It is also important for the patient to work with the physician in order to prevent the patient from seeking reassurance from the therapist. In cases of “cyberchondria,” the patient should lso be urged not to seek reassurance on the internet.
Finally, it is important for the patient to identify and re-attribute his beliefs. For example, a patient suffering from a side stitch may write down other symptoms such as overexertion, lying down on the wrong side, etc. and realize that he is not suffering from a hernia. It is important for the patient to know that recovery will not occur overnight. It is a lifelong process. Although I have made leaps and bounds in my treatment, I still have many outbreaks. However, I deal with them now in a much more rational way and they are far less intense.
In addition to cognitive behavioral therapy and support from my family, I have also found mediation to be quite helpful. For many sufferers, hypochondria tends to be at its worst in stressful situations. I have found that if I take a moment to breath, and accept the situation at hand, I am much less stressed. It is my hope that this essay will shed some light on treatment for hypochondriasis, as well as better the understanding by sharing a personal perspective. Finally, I hope this will inspire other hypochondriacs to embark on the journey of getting their lives back.