Hypochondria: when your symptoms enslave you

All of us at some point have felt concern about some symptoms that we may have felt, although proably just dealt with it by taking an ibuprofen. However, there are people who can not stop worrying about their symptoms, making them grow bigger and bigger. In psychology, we call this hypochondria.

How does a hypochondriac act?

What characterises a hypochondriac is not so much their concern about their symptoms as it is their fear of suffering a major illness due to a misinterpretation of their symptoms.

These concerns can focus on any bodily function: heart rate, sweating, cough, small wounds… the list can be practically endless.

This fear makes them go to the doctor very frequently, insisting that they suffer from a serious illness. The doctor complies, doing all kinds of tests to rule out anything and everything. Once they establish that there is no real disease, conflict begins to arise. The patient begins to distrust first the professionalism of the doctor and, finally, his good faith, believing that the only thing he wants is “to stop being bothered by him.”

Hypochondria: when your symptoms enslave you

Failed search for solutions

From there begins what is called the medical pilgrimage. The hypochondriac go through a whole list of specialists waiting for one of them to find the key to their disease.

As if this were not enough, in recent years the ideal ally for hypochondriacs has emerged: the internet. The internet offers everything a hypochondriac could dream of:  an endless list of symptoms, associated with another endless list of diseases, each one more serious, deadly and strange than the previous.

But it is a double-edged sword. Although it is true that they find a space where they are understood, in the long run they are being provided with new arguments to perpetuate their hypochondria.

They may even come to feel symptoms they hadn’t felt before, to believe in diseases they did not even know existed. Now their options multiply, but so do their anxiety, depression and fear.

Hypochondria: when your symptoms enslave you

Development of hypochondria

Hypochondria can begin practically at any age, although it commonly emerges during early youth. It usually occurs chronically, combining more acute periods with others of rest.

One of the biggest drawbacks of this health problem is that, being chronic, little by little it invades all the spheres of the affected patient’s life. Social relationships are limited by the patient’s concerns about their illness. The same thing happens to family relationships, since everything revolved around the welfare of the “sick”; and finally, it can even affect their work and lead to the loss of their job.

Having suffered serious illness in childhood or having a family history of a serious illness is often associated with the onset of hypochondria.  

Then, a strong stress situation like the loss of a loved one, usually precipitate the appearance of these symptoms.

It starts in a somewhat gradual way. At first it is a small concern, which after a satisfactory consultation with the doctor, dissipates. However, this relief begins to count for less and less, and the patient tends to make more frequent visits to their doctor. It may even be that they change their perception of their physical symptoms, and the vascular system disease they initially believed they had may now have mutated into a cancer problem.

Hypochondria: when your symptoms enslave you

How do you deal with hypochondria?

The approach that has proven most effective against hypochondria is psychological treatment over biological (medication). Among the different psychological approaches available, cognitive-behavioral therapy stands out.

In the cognitive plane, this therapy approach focuses on giving a new meaning to the symptoms that the patient feels. Together, the therapist and patient create a safe context in which the person can evoke different bodily symptoms and feel their effects on their body. In this way, they learn to differentiate somatic symptoms (those that have a mental and not physical origin) from the symptoms derived from a physical illness.

The second part of the approach, the more behavioral one, is aimed at reducing the behaviors that cause the problem to be maintained, such as online consultations or constant visits to the doctor.

If you need more information about hypochondria or its treatment, do not hesitate to contact a psychologist. Therapy can help you better manage this problem, whether you do it in person or online.

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