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Among the most common symptoms of hypochondria is an obsession that a serious illness exists when medical tests show a person is healthy. A hypochondriac might become so fearful and anxious that he or she spends hours each day looking for a disorder to match perceived symptoms. The signs of hypochondria include frequently examining the body for signs of disease and taking blood pressure and pulse readings several times a day. Hypochondriacs typically seek other doctors when a physician cannot find anything wrong with them.
When hypochondriacs hear about a disorder or read about a disease, they may develop a phobia about the condition and become convinced they suffer from it. Symptoms of hypochondria may also arise in a person with a minor ailment if one or more signs mimic a serious illness. A person with this mental anxiety commonly cannot accept the fact that symptoms of serious and minor illnesses often overlap.
Other signs of hypochondria might appear as an all-consuming concern about health issues. The patient sincerely believes he or she is seriously ill despite medical tests to the contrary. In extreme cases, a person becomes so obsessed with an imagined disease that he or she is unable to work or maintain social relationships. The financial burden of repeated diagnostic tests might also take a toll on the hypochondriac.
Hypochondria represent a mental health condition similar to anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorders. The emergence of so much information via the Internet might make symptoms of hypochondria worse because of the number of sources about disease. People who spend hours online searching for a disease that matches their symptoms are sometimes called cyberchondriacs.
No known cause for hypochondria exists, but it might be linked to heredity, the way a person was raised, or simply a facet of acquired personality. Anti-depressant medications help ease phobias and anxiety in some patients. Others benefit from psychological counseling that puts irrational fears into perspective.
Some hypochondriacs know their persistent worry makes no sense, but they cannot shake off concerns about aches and pains someone else might ignore. People who watch a loved one become seriously ill face higher risks of developing symptoms of hypochondria. An adult who suffered a major illness as a child is also at risk, along with people who come from abusive or neglectful homes. Signs of hypochondria commonly surface when people reach their 20s.
I have a sister-in-law who has a lot of hypochondria symptoms, although I don't believe she's ever been officially diagnosed with it. Every new ache or pain she gets is a cause for panic with her. It can never be anything minor or easily treatable. If she gets a stomach pain, it must be stomach cancer and she's going to be dead in six months. If she develops a cough, she knows for a fact it's an incurable lung disease.
She will schedule very expensive medical procedures, like an open MRI, if she doesn't agree with her doctor's diagnosis. He may think her headaches are triggered by stress or allergies, but she knows for a fact that it's really a brain tumor. She'll demand that he schedule a series of brain scans to rule it out. I think she's a true hypochondriac, because she will not listen to reason. Once she's convinced she's sick, nobody can change her mind.
I think my dad became a hypochondriac after my mother passed away from pancreatic cancer. He became convinced he was going to get cancer too, so he quit smoking cold turkey and quit eating junk food. He filled up three kitchen cabinets with every herbal supplement and holistic medication that claimed to have any effect on cancer whatsoever. He rarely went to the doctor before my mother died, but after she passed away he was making appointment after appointment.
This all started before the arrival of the Internet, so he bought a lot of medical journals and subscribed to several men's health magazines. If he noticed a new symptom, like a lump on his arm, he would consult those
books until he found something that matched his problem.
He actually got better about fretting over imaginary diseases, but ironically he was diagnosed with prostate, bone and bladder cancer last year. He is more at peace with having a real cancer diagnosis than he ever was when he only thought he was sick.