Do you immediately think of a serious illness when you experience certain complaints?
Do you immediately google the word ‘stroke’ when you have a headache?
Are you convinced that you suffer from Alzheimer’s if you often forget something in the supermarket?
Then you probably suffer from hypochondria (also known as a fear of disease).
If you suffer from this mental disorder, you are wrongly convinced that you are suffering from a serious illness.
You are obsessive about all kinds of symptoms that can indicate a disease and this fear can define your whole life.
Do you often worry about all kinds of physical complaints and are you extremely afraid that these are signs of a serious condition?
Then you would do well to read this article carefully!
What is hypochondria?
Everyone is concerned about their health.
Still, we do get sick every now and then, that’s quite normal and most people don’t worry too much about this. They visit the general practitioner, receive medication and see the sick.
However, if you suffer from hypochondria, you immediately think that you are suffering from a serious illness when the symptoms of illness appear.
For you, diarrhea immediately points to colon cancer and if you notice a dark spot on your skin, you are convinced that you have skin cancer.
You are so focused on all kinds of symptoms that you immediately think the worst. The concern about your health takes on a life of its own, as it were, and convinces you that you are really seriously ill.
People who suffer from hypochondria go to the doctor every once in a while.
If the GP reassures them and finds no or hardly any symptoms that indicate a serious illness, hypochondriacs feel reassured for a while.
After a while, however, they focus on these symptoms again and become convinced that the doctor has missed something. Sometimes other symptoms arise, which may indicate another disease.
If you suffer from hypochondria, you are never quite reassured about your health and that is quite exhausting and difficult to live with, not only for yourself, but also for those around you.
Outsiders often think that people with hypochondria seek attention and that their condition is mainly ‘between the ears’.
According to Sako Visser, clinical psychologist and professor of health care psychology at the University of Amsterdam, hypochondria really is a far-reaching disorder that can cause a lot of psychological suffering.
Imagine that you are really convinced that you are suffering from a serious illness and that doctors find no cause at all for your symptoms. Psychologically, this is indeed very difficult to bear.
Hypochondriasis is more than just imagining that you have a serious illness and it is not at all an affectation as many people think.
It is a mental disorder that is described as such in the classification system for psychiatric disorders.
In the DSM-4 this condition was indeed still simply called hypochondria. In the latest version of this manual, the DSM-5 , this disorder is described as somatic symptom disorder or disease anxiety disorder .
If you suffer from hypochondria, you really do have a condition, but not as you think. Your symptoms have nothing to do with a serious physical condition, but are psychological in nature.
The DSM-5 discusses several criteria that must be present before one can speak of a disease anxiety disorder.
These are also typical symptoms if you suffer from hypochondria:
What are the symptoms of hypochondria?
Hypochondria: experiences and stories
You may think that hypochondria is not common. Nothing is less true. No less than 5% of the Dutch population suffers from some form of hypochondria.
Because many people are not aware that they suffer from a mental illness, they do not seek help in that direction and therefore the real numbers may be even higher.
A while ago I had the opportunity to talk to people who suffer from hypochondria.
Especially to help you, I would like to share some experiences and stories of people I spoke to and treated.
““Ever since her teenage years, Els has been a real pessimist and pessimist. She still remembers very well when it started. When she was 18, Els’ father got bone cancer. It started with pain in his hips and after a while he could no longer walk at all. The diagnosis took a long time and when the doctors finally found what was wrong with him, the disease was already at an advanced stage. When Els was 19 her father died… This obviously had a big impact on Elsa’s life.
Els is terrified that the same will happen to her and as soon as she experiences any physical complaints, she searches the internet for an explanation for her symptoms. She visits the doctor very often because she is convinced that she is suffering from a serious illness. However, her GP cannot find an explanation for her symptoms. Time and again he tries to reassure Els, but to this day Els remains convinced that there is more going on.”
The Story of Jonas
“Jonas has been in treatment with a psychotherapist for several months to get rid of his hypochondria. Since he was a few years ago because of his fear of contamination had a panic attack, things went completely wrong. He regularly suffered from shortness of breath, causing him to often hyperventilate and when he came into contact with certain things that he thought were not clean, he would break out in a sweat. Jonas did not associate these symptoms with his fear of contamination at all, but he was convinced that he had a serious heart condition. After numerous examinations by a cardiologist, it turned out that there was nothing wrong with his heart. Still, Jonas couldn’t shake the thought of heart trouble. Because Jonas kept visiting the cardiologist, he sent him on to a psychotherapist. He did indeed diagnose hypochondria and advised him to contact me.
“Jolien went to the doctor every month because she kept having symptoms that she believed were the harbingers of a serious illness. For example, last year Jolien was convinced that she was going to get Multiple Sclerosis. She had had it at night for a while. suffered from cramps in her legs, felt tired and she noticed that she was dropping things more and more. According to Google, this could indicate MS. Because these complaints persisted, the doctor eventually referred her to a neurologist. MRI scan and a spinal cord examination showed that there was no MS at all. Was Jolien reassured?
No, she was convinced that the neurologist had overlooked certain things and in another hospital she had the same tests performed again. Result: no MS. A while later, Jolien discovered a brown spot on her upper arm. Again she went on the internet looking for possible causes. Jolien diagnosed herself with skin cancer, because indeed the spot had a somewhat strange shape and sometimes it itched.
A while ago she had indeed been on a trip and once she had completely forgotten to put on sunscreen with a protective factor. This had to be skin cancer! Jolien lay awake at night until she finally knocked on the door of the dermatologist. This one took a biopsy and guess what? It was a very harmless age spot…”
Are you, like Els, Jonas or Jolien, convinced that you are suffering from a seriously ill person?
Do you often google all kinds of symptoms on the internet and are you convinced that after extensive examinations the doctor has overlooked something?
Then it is high time you knew what to do with hypochondria so that you can enjoy life carefree again.
How do you get rid of hypochondria? 7 treatment tips
Tip 1: don’t google
Although the internet offers a wealth of information on many things, it is better not to google symptoms of all kinds of diseases.
Doctor Google is not always completely wrong...
But if you already have a tendency towards hypochondria, it is very difficult to judge what information is relevant and to what extent the symptoms you are experiencing are related to a serious illness.
Self-diagnosis via the internet makes you worry unnecessarily.
The problem with the internet is that if you type in the keyword dizziness, for example, you will be immediately redirected to sites about serious illnesses.
After all, these are much more interesting to read than, for example, sites about dizziness when tired.
In this respect it is interesting to know that fatigue is much more common than, for example, a brain tumor, while the search results do not show this at all.
By the way, did you know that obsessively looking up symptoms of all kinds of diseases on the internet has a name? Cyberchondria.
Tip 2: look at evidence
If you are extremely afraid of a serious condition and have already had several doctor visits, trust your doctor completely.
After all, he can provide proof that there is really nothing wrong with you physically.
A blood test, an MR scan, a biopsy are all things that provide real evidence, while the symptoms you think you have are mainly in your head.
Dr Michael Sinclair , psychologist and renowned member of the British Psychological Society puts it this way: ‘Listen to what your mind is telling you, then look at the evidence for what is really there. Remember that our minds mainly tell us stories and not reality at all.
TIP 3: Stick to one doctor
If you suffer from hypochondria, your trust in doctors is often lost.
Just because a doctor won’t confirm your suspicion of a serious condition, you think there’s a lot more going on and that your doctor may have overlooked possible issues.
The first reaction is often to see another doctor to get confirmation. You better not do this…
There is a good chance that the second doctor will not find a physical condition either. Moreover, the whole frenzy of investigations then starts all over again.
This not only entails a lot of costs, but also a lot of stress. Doctor shopping to get confirmation of your suspicion usually doesn’t get you anywhere.
Tip 4: put it in perspective
Anxiety is a factor that plays a major role in hypochondria.
Not only do you feel anxious because of various symptoms you are experiencing, but also when a doctor finds no physical causes for your symptoms…
Then the fear often hits you: ‘See that I suffer from a strange disease, even the doctor doesn’t know what exactly is wrong with me’ is a common reaction.
One way to deal with this fear is to put it into perspective. Think about what happened in the past.
Have you ever been confronted with a serious illness of a relative or close friend?
Do you make a connection between your symptoms and those of this person? In general, are you an anxious person who worries easily? Are you a control freak and have trouble letting go of things?
Tip 5: challenge your mind
With hypochondria, symptoms are often the only thing you can think about.
You deal with it every day and that can have a very negative influence on your life.
For example, it often happens that people with hypochondria cannot concentrate well on their work, that they do not manage to relax at all and are often absent-minded.
Constantly checking yourself for all kinds of symptoms that could possibly indicate a serious illness is almost untenable.
There are many other things that are much more important in life and that you are forced to take into account.
If you tend to compare the bump on your leg with pictures of skin conditions on the internet for the umpteenth time, try to think of other things right away.
Think of the dishes that urgently need to be done, think of what you will prepare for dinner the next day, think of an exciting series on TV, get some fresh air, etc…
The more things you have to think about, the more your mind will be challenged to focus on things other than finding all kinds of symptoms.
Tip 6: read more about hypochondria
If you have read this article carefully, you may recognize some or more of the symptoms of hypochondria in yourself.
Perhaps you now realize that you are indeed paying too much attention to physical symptoms, that you are too preoccupied with them and that this is having a very negative impact on your life.
While surfing the internet is certainly not recommended, it is important to learn more about hypochondria if you want to overcome this mental disorder.
Therefore, always look for scientifically substantiated articles, visit a library or ask your doctor if he has documentation about hypochondria.