Hypochondriasis is an overwhelming fear that one has a serious disease, even though healthcare providers can find no evidence of illness. It is based on misinterpreting normal body sensations. Mild, occasional preoccupation with disease is quite common. This is not the same as hypochondriasis, which is severe and persistent and interferes with work as well as relationships. An estimated 75% to 85% of those who have hypochondriasis also have anxiety, depression, or another mental disorder.

Signs and Symptoms

What Causes It?

There are several theories about what causes hypochondriasis, including the following:

Who's Most At Risk?

What to Expect at Your Provider's Office

A healthcare provider will perform a physical exam along with other tests to determine whether a physical disease may account for the reported symptoms. He or she will also ask specific questions and administer psychological tests to rule out the possibility of other related disorders such as anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder. A trained specialist, such as a psychologist or a psychiatrist, may be consulted to aid in the diagnosis and treatment.

Treatment Options

Treatment Plan

In addition to regular visits with a healthcare provider, people with hypochondriasis may also benefit from psychotherapy. Group therapy, behavior modification, and cognitive therapy have been reported to work particularly well (see section entitled Surgical and Other Procedures for more details). Because people with hypochondriasis tend to have other mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, treatment of these associated conditions is an important step in resolving the symptoms of hypochondriasis.

Drug Therapies

Drugs are generally not used to treat hypochondriasis specifically, but medication for associated mental health conditions may improve symptoms of hypochondriasis. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as sertraline, fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, or paroxetine, are a class of medications that your doctor may consider.

Surgical and Other Procedures

Several types of psychotherapy may help:

Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Cognitive-behavioral therapy and stress management are the cornerstones of treatment for hypochondriasis. Good results have also been documented with the use of acupuncture and music therapy. Little other formal research exists regarding the use of complementary and alternative therapies for hypochondriasis. Regular appointments with a supportive CAM provider, though, may help to relieve health related fears because of the consistency of visits, the reassurance from a professional, and the focus on wellness as well as healthy behaviors.

To date, no scientific studies have investigated the role of nutrition in hypochondriasis. However, people with hypochondriasis who also have anxiety or depression might benefit from using less alcohol and caffeine. In general, it makes good sense for a person with hypochondriasis to follow healthy nutritional guidelines and to make only one dietary change at a time. A registered dietitian may also be helpful in creating a healthy eating plan. He or she may encourage the following: Although no scientific studies have examined the effect of supplements on hypochondriasis, the following may support general health and well-being: Herbs
Certain herbs that are used to energize people during times of stress may also help a person with hypochondriasis become less preoccupied with disease (which tends to worsen during stressful times). Other herbs may help lessen symptoms of hypochondriasis. An herbalist may recommend a combination of two to four of the following dried herbs for the stated purposes: Homeopathy
There have been few studies examining the effectiveness of specific homeopathic remedies. Some healthcare professionals, however, believe that homeopathy promotes a sense of well-being and may relieve feelings of anxiety and depression often associated with hypochondriasis. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type. In homeopathic terms, a person's constitution is his or her physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate remedy for a particular individual. Acupuncture
Several studies indicate that acupuncture may be a promising treatment for hypochondriasis. Acupuncture is believed to balance the flow of energy (qi) in the body and this balancing effect may be particularly helpful for people with distorted perceptions of body sensations. The studies suggest that acupuncture may be useful for: Massage
Some healthcare practitioners believe that regular visits to a massage therapist (which include techniques to relieve stress) may help reduce symptoms of hypochondriasis. It is possible, however, that massage could draw attention to physical complaints, thereby increasing symptoms. For these reasons, more research is needed before definitive conclusions can be drawn about the value of massage for hypochondriasis.

Prognosis/Possible Complications

Stress and anxiety may worsen the symptoms of hypochondriasis. Many patients will also struggle with costly medical evaluations and develop addictions to certain medications. Although hypochondriasis is a chronic illness, early psychiatric treatment combined with a strong motivation to change may increase the chances of a healthy prognosis. Some reports suggest that one-third to one-half of patients improve over time, and one-tenth recover completely from the illness.

Following Up

Try to maintain a healthy relationship with your primary healthcare provider. He or she will want to schedule regular appointments to monitor your symptoms.


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