The vital characteristic of hypochondria is the concern related to the fear of having or the belief of having severe illness. This is usually base on the misinterpretation of one or more physical signs or symptoms.
We can speak of disease anxiety (or fear of disease ). Of course, only if a complete medical evaluation has excluded any medical condition that can fully explain the physical signs or symptoms. However, excessive anxiety can exist even when a non-serious organic disease is present.
The main aspect of hypochondria is that unjustified fear or belief of having an illness persists despite medical reassurance.
The symptoms of hypochondria can be trace back to concerns about:
The person attributes these symptoms or signs to the suspected disease. And is very worry about their meaning and cause. In disease anxiety (also called disease phobia ), concerns can relate to numerous systems, at different times or simultaneously.
Alternatively, there may be a concern for a specific organ or a single disease (e.g., fear of heart disease).
Repeated medical examinations, diagnostic tests, and reassurances from doctors serve little to alleviate the concern concerning illness or physical suffering. For example, a person worried about having heart disease will not feel reassured by the repeated negativity of the findings of the medical visits, the ECG, or even cardiac angiography.
Hypochondriac individuals may be alarm if they read or hear about a disease. M even if they learn that someone has fallen ill, or because of observations, feelings, or events that affect their body.
For those suffering from hypochondria, the fear of disease often becomes for the subject a central element of self-image, a habitual topic of conversation, and a way of responding to the stresses of life.
In hypochondria, medical history is often present in great detail and very extensively. “Going to doctors” and deterioration of the doctor-patient relationship is common, with mutual frustration and resentment.
People with a fear of disease often feel that they do not receive appropriate treatment. They can vigorously oppose invitations to go to psychological services.
Complications can result from repeated diagnostic procedures, which in themselves can pose risks and are expensive.
However, just as these individuals have a history of multiple complaints without a clear physical basis. There is a risk that they will receive superficial assessments as in the fable “wolf to wolf”. The presence of a general medical condition when present can, therefore, be neglected.
Social relationships are disturbed by the fact that the person who has the symptoms of hypochondria is worried about his condition and often expects special consideration and treatment.
Family life can become disturbed as it focuses on the physical well-being of the subject. There may be no effects on the working functioning of the individual if he manages to limit the expression of hypochondriac concerns outside the working environment. More often than not, concern interferes with performance and causes absences from work. In severe cases, the hypochondriac subject can become completely invalid due to his / her fears of diseases.
Serious illness, especially in childhood, and a family member’s experience of illness are easily associate with the onset of symptoms of hypochondria.
It is believe that certain psycho-social stressors, in particular the death of some close person, may, in some cases, precipitate the phobia of diseases.
The disturbance is equally distribute between males and females. The percentage of the spread of hypochondria symptoms in the general population is unknown, but in general medical practice, it ranges from 4 to 9%.
The fear of disease may begin at any age. But it is thought that the most common age of onset is early adulthood. The course is usually chronic, with the symptoms coming and going, but sometimes a complete remission of hypochondria occurs.
Because of its chronicity, some believe that hypochondriac disorder is mainly the expression of character traits (i.e., long-lasting concerns regarding physical problems and the focus on somatic symptoms).
It is important to distinguish disease anxiety from obsessive-compulsive disorder from contamination. This is characterized not so much by the fear of having an illness. But by the excessive and irrational fear of getting sick or making someone else ill through contagion. This generally results in washing rituals and avoidance aimed at warding off such fears.
Psychotherapy is a very uneven discipline; there are dozens of forms of individual, family, couple, and group psychotherapy. In the treatment of hypochondria, the form of psychotherapy that scientific research has shown to be most effective, in the shortest possible time, is ” cognitive-behavioral. ”
It is short psychotherapy, usually weekly, in which the patient plays an active role in solving his problem. Together with the therapist, she focuses on learning more functional ways of thinking and behaving. In order to break the vicious circles of anxiety for health.
In any case, the treatment of hypochondria can be particularly difficult. As the subjects are never entirely convinced that the cause of their ills is only psychological.
Generally, psychotherapy is possible in those cases in which the person continually worries about having diseases. But realizes, at least in part, that his concerns are excessive and unfounded.
The drug treatment of hypochondria, provided that the person agrees to take the drugs without fear that may cause damage to your body. Is fundamentally based on antidepressants, or tricyclic that SSRIs.
This last class has, compared to the previous ones, greater handling, and fewer side effects.
Given that hypochondria is often assimilated to obsessive-compulsive disorder. Considering the patient’s concerns as disease obsessions, drug therapy reflects the guidelines for this disorder. Fifteen high doses of serotonergic antidepressants taken for prolong periods are use.
In mild forms, the prescription of benzodiazepines alone may be sufficient. But generally, it does not constitute a form of therapy for hypochondria and only achieves short-term anxiety relief.
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