Hypochondria is a health anxiety disorder. It is often chronic. A person with hypochondria is often very anxious about their health. A hypochondriac fears that a real or imagined minor physical symptom is a sign of serious illness. Even when several doctors assure them otherwise, a hypochondriac is convinced that they have a serious disease. Psychiatric counseling and medications can relieve some, if not all, of the anxiety and suffering. Left untreated, hypochondria can be debilitating and affect daily function.
It is often difficult to identify a specific cause for hypochondria.
Factors that may increase your risk for hypochondria include:
- Family history of hypochondria
- Having a serious childhood illness
- Psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, or personality disorder
- Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse in childhood
- Observing violence in childhood
- Stressful experience with your own or a loved one's illness
- History of personal traumatic experience
- Chronic fear of serious illness
- Chronic fear that minor symptoms are signs of a serious illness
- Many physical complaints that often change over time
- Lasts at least 6 months
- Causes major distress
- Interferes with social life or work
- Check yourself frequently
- Make many doctor visits, sometimes in the same day
- Seek repeated tests for the same symptoms
- Repeatedly research information about specific illnesses and their symptom
- Change healthcare providers frequently
- Try multiple herbal remedies or other alternative treatments
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. If the exam shows no disease, your doctor may begin to suspect hypochondria. If further testing also fails to uncover a known medical condition, your doctor may diagnosis you with hypochondria if:
- Your fear of illness lasts for at least 6 months and does not improve with reassurance and negative testing
- No other psychological disorder is causing your fear
Physician Relationship and Monitoring
Effective treatment involves consistent, supportive care from one doctor, often along with a mental health professional. Finding a healthcare provider who is willing to listen to your concerns, provide support, and avoid needless testing is key to recovery.
You may feel overwhelmed by your symptoms. They may even seem to control your life. Schedule frequent visits, regardless of symptoms, with one doctor you can trust. Expect your doctor to:
- Validate your distress
- Be supportive
- Direct your attention away from symptoms and focus it on functioning in daily life
- Discourage a sense of dependency and disability
- Recommend psychiatric counseling and educational therapy
Psychotherapy such as cognitive behavior therapy and behavioral stress management can be effective in treating hypochondria. This involves regular counseling with a psychotherapist to recognize false beliefs, understand anxiety, and stop anxious behaviors.
There are no current guidelines to prevent hypochondria because the cause is not known.
American Counseling Association
American Psychiatric Association
Canadian Psychiatric Association
Canadian Psychological Association
Abramowitz JS, Schwartz SA, Whiteside SP. A contemporary conceptual model of hypochondriasis. Mayo Clin Proc. 2002;77(12):1323-1330.
Antidepressant use in children, adolescents, and adults. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/InformationbyDrugClass/UCM096273. Updated December 23, 2014. Accessed January 26, 2016.
Greeven A, van Balkom AJ, Visser S, et al. Cognitive behavior therapy and paroxetine in the treatment of hypochondriasis: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Psychiatry. 2007;164(1):91-99.
Thomson AB, Page LA. Psychotherapies for hypochondriasis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007;(4):CD006520.
Last reviewed December 2015 by Adrian Preda, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.