It happens to everyone to feel something strange in their body and have the fear of being sick, but when this attitude becomes obsessive, exaggerated and causes discomfort in living everyday life, it is likely that it is hypochondria. The term Hypochondria derives from the Greek “ὑποχόνδρια” and indicates a psychological disorder characterized by the tendency to overestimate the danger of every body symptom (or presumed to be so) and consider it a harbinger of a pathology. People with this disorder are called hypochondriacs. Today we actually talk about health anxiety but the term hypochondria has remained the best known.
How can I tell if I am a hypochondriac?
Generally, hypochondriacal individuals tend to focus on their own body and to interpret in a distorted way any “variation from the state of normality”. Precisely because of this they often carry out numerous specialist visits and checks which, despite the negative result, do not help to alleviate anxiety and the fear of being sick if not for a short time. They can also engage in the reverse maladaptive behavior, i.e. categorically avoid medical visits and hospitals. They also tend to inform themselves in a meticulous way about the disease they think they have, seeking only information to support their beliefs. The disorder must last for at least six months and be accompanied by discomfort, fear of dying and must not be caused by other specific disorders (eg delusions).
What are the causes of hypochondria?
This disorder is generally present together with other anxiety or depressive disorders and can sometimes be triggered by previous unpleasant events often dating back to childhood or adolescence, related to one’s health or that of loved ones. In the history of hypochondria sufferers there is sometimes a health problem that could have been avoided with better prevention. Another important factor to consider is the influence of the media: an inaccurate description of a disease or excessively pressing information campaigns can contribute to the onset or worsening of the disease. There are not always clear and defined triggers.
What is the treatment for hypochondria?
The international scientific literature has shown that cognitive and behavioral therapy is effective in the treatment of hypochondria: the interventions are aimed at modifying dysfunctional thoughts regarding perceived symptoms and sensations, fear of death and anxiety. To this can be added a psychoeducational intervention, useful in providing information regarding one’s body and one’s sensations.
Pharmacological therapy is indicated only in addition to psychological therapy or only in cases where this is associated with other pathologies (eg depression ).
How common is the condition?
Worrying about their health is not uncommon and around 10-20% of people have exaggerated concerns about their health at least once in their life. As for true hypochondria, the estimates speak of a percentage that is between 0.8 and 8.5%.
Aren’t the symptoms real?
It depends: the symptoms are often present, but hypochondriacs overestimate the danger. So the problem is not in the presence or absence of the symptom, but in the way it is interpreted. Our body is noisy: if we spend time listening to it, it is normal that it is some symptom on which to focus attention, the problem is the meaning that is attributed to it. Believing that you have cancer due to a single migraine episode is a catastrophic interpretation of a normal problem.
At what age does the pathology arise?
It can arise at any age, but the most affected group is the one that goes from 20 to 30 years.