When you get a horrible headache, do you simply take some pills and wait for it to pass or do you tie yourself up in knots and convince yourself that you have a brain tumor? Do you worry that your stomachaches are a symptom of an ulcer, even though you have had the problem checked out by a doctor and found that there was nothing to worry about?
If so, you might be a hypochondriac. Despite all of the prevailing misconceptions, hypochondria is a real condition.
What exactly is a hypochondriac? Quite simply, sufferers of hypochondria are obsessively fixated on their health. They fear the worst about every health issue they experience, even after a doctor has reassured them that there is nothing to worry about. If you think you may be a hypochondriac, or you fear a loved one may be suffering from hypochondria, the following information can help you to discover if this is indeed the case.
Is hypochondria a disorder?
Most people, from time to time, have experienced a minor health issue and wondered if it was a symptom of a more serious condition. If you have ongoing health issues, such as cold sweats, aches, pains and headaches, getting checked out by a health care professional is in order. However, hypochondriacs are known for taking those concerns to another level, even after being informed by doctors that nothing was wrong. This persistence in the belief that most health issues are signs of something more serious is a very telling sign of hypochondria.
However, spending so much time wondering about whether or not you are sick can actually lead to illnesses, in the same way that stress can manifest itself into physical problems like boils and rashes. Thus, experiencing anxiety from hypochondriac tendencies can lead to health problems like headaches and stomachaches. As such, hypochondria is no laughing matter. In fact, it is widely recognized as a mental health problem known as somatic symptom disorder.
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The reason hypochondria has been classified as a medical disorder is that the symptoms experienced by individuals who suffer from it are not voluntary. Suffering from a huge amount of distress can interfere with personal life and relationships. In most cases of hypochondria, the mind-body connection can cause very real problems as a consequence. As such, this disorder affects both genders and can happen at any time, even if it is most common to happen during early adulthood.
What are the physical symptoms of somatic symptom disorder?
Some people may think that hypochondriacs are lying about the symptoms they feel, but this is simply untrue. Those who suffer from somatic symptom disorder are not faking their symptoms. Instead, this is a matter of overly worrying about their health issues and becoming disproportionally distressed about them. Overall, symptoms can range from general issues, like pains and fatigue, to specific complaints, such as stomach noises, urination or even heavy breathing.
How do you know if you are a hypochondriac?
There are many warning signs that can indicate whether someone is suffering from somatic symptom disorder. However, diagnosing the disorder can be a difficult process, seeing as hypochondriacs tend to not believe that they are suffering from a mental disorder.
When visiting a doctor with symptoms, you must first undergo a full physical exam. Then, the doctor will look over your medical history to help him or her evaluate your problems. If no physical reason for the symptoms is found by the doctor, he or she might refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist for further evaluation. As such, your diagnosis will be based on the assessment of whichever mental health professional you are referred to. He or she will assess your attitudes and behavior, and may perform a personality assessment in order to confirm whether or not you are indeed suffering from somatic symptom disorder.
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Are you, or is someone you know, suffering from somatic symptom disorder? Here are some telling signs that may suggest hypochondria:
- You worry about your health constantly.
- You check your body for lumps, pain and other signs of illness in a more frequent manner than it is recommended.
- You have a history of seeing lots of different doctors. You might even purposely try to find a doctor who agrees that you have a serious illness, despite many other professionals saying otherwise.
- You look up health information, on the web or other media, obsessively.
- You believe that your doctor does not know what he or she is talking about, despite having no actual reasons to challenge his or her expertise.
Can somatic symptom disorder be treated?
Somatic symptom disorder cannot be prevented, but there are ways of decreasing the severity of these symptoms and helping you or your loved one to cope. On the other hand, it can be very difficult to treat hypochondria if you are not able to believe that your symptoms are due to an emotional or mental issue. The main aim of treatment is to help people suffering from the disorder to live normal lives and change the way that they think about their health. Overall, a combination of psychotherapy, supportive care and medication is the best way of treating somatic symptom disorder. Therefore, consider the following details about these treatment methods:
- Psychotherapy – There are many forms of therapy and counseling that can help you change your thoughts and behavior regarding hypochondria. In particular, cognitive behavior therapy tends to be the best course of psychotherapy for this disorders, as it can help you to function better by dealing with your stress and anxiety.
- Supportive care – Many people with somatic symptom disorder do not engage with psychotherapy treatment because they refuse to believe that their symptoms are a result of their mental and emotional states. In such cases, the best form of treatment is to stay in contact with a health care professional on a regular basis. After a trusted doctor-patient relationship is established, you can put your mind to rest, trusting that your doctor will monitor your symptoms and inform you of any illnesses.
- Medications – People with somatic symptom disorder who have also been diagnosed as having an anxiety or mood disorders can sometimes be prescribed medication to help them cope. This is usually an anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication.
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