Hypochondria (hy-po-KON-dre-a) is a mental disorder in which people believe that they are sick, but their symptoms are not related to any physical illness.
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What Is Hypochondria?
Researchers say that between 4 and 9 percent of visits to physicians involve people with hypochondria. These people say that they feel sick and often have detailed explanations for their beliefs. They might complain about chest pains or headaches. However, when the physician examines them for a specific disease or condition, nothing physical is found that explains the symptoms or their concern. Hypochondria is more than the occasional fear of illness that healthy people may have. It is an ongoing belief that something is medically wrong and is causing problems in everyday life.
What Causes Hypochondria?
Hypochondria often is related to other mental disorders, such as depression * or anxiety * . Sometimes children who see their parents exhibit hypo-chondria show similar signs when they become adults. Some people who have survived a serious illness go on to battle hypochondria, because they fear the return of their disease.
How Is Hypochondria Diagnosed and Treated?
Hypochondria leads to physical complaints that are not found to be caused by a medical disease or condition during a physician's exam. At the time of the exam, people with hypochondria may say that they understand that nothing is physically wrong. Later, however, their symptoms may return. Then they may visit a different physician, seeking one who will treat them for the illness they believe that they have. People with hypochondria often become passionate about their health. They may worry excessively about exercising and watching their diet. Treatment involves convincing the person that nothing is physically wrong or treating the related disorder, such as depression or anxiety.
* depression (de-PRESH-un) is a mental disorder that causes long periods of excessive sadness and impairs a person's feelings, thoughts, and behavior.
* anxiety (ang-ZY-e-tee) is a mental disorder characterized by extreme, unpleasant, and unwanted feelings of apprehension or fear, sometimes accompanied by physical symptoms.
Munchausen (MOON-chou-zenz) syndrome is another mental disorderthatissimilarto hypochondria. It involves pretending to be sick in order to get attention.
One form, called Munchausen syndrome by proxy, involves a parent who makes false claims of illness in a child. In its extreme form, the parent might harm the child to cause a physical condition that requires medical care.
Both Munchausen syndrome and hypochondria result in physical complaints that are not caused by a true medical condition. In hypochondria, however, the symptoms are not intentionally faked.
Cantor, Carla, and Brian A. Fallon. Phantom Illness: Shattering the Myths of Hypochondria. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996. An adult book that offers hope to those suffering from hypochondria.