Skip to content

    Anxiety & Panic Disorders Health Center

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Worried Sick? Help for Hypochondria

    Hypochondria is more than an active imagination -- it is a real anxiety disorder.
    By
    WebMD Magazine - Feature

    According to his doctor, Rich David is a healthy 32-year-old man. Yet for years, David has believed otherwise. All it takes is a swollen gland or an upset stomach to set him off. Immediately, he assumes -- he knows -- that he's fatally ill.

    "I'll waste days researching gruesome cancers on the Internet," he says. He can't concentrate on his work. He's so anxious that he can't eat; the resulting weight loss further terrifies him. Despite its comic reputation, hypochondria is a real psychiatric disorder, as real as depression or anxiety. And its effects can be devastating.

    Recommended Related to Anxiety Panic

    Understanding Generalized Anxiety Disorder -- Symptoms

    The hallmark of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is excessive, out-of-control worrying about everyday things. Symptoms include: Persistent fear, sometimes without any obvious cause, that is present everyday Inability to concentrate Muscle tension; muscle aches Diarrhea Eating too little or too much Insomnia Irritability Loss of sex drive For school-age children, symptoms include: Fear of being away from the family Refusal to go to school...

    Read the Understanding Generalized Anxiety Disorder -- Symptoms article > >

    Hypochondria -- the conviction that one is ill, despite all evidence to the contrary -- affects as much as 5% of the U.S. population, according to the American Psychological Association. It often starts in a person's 20s and can be triggered by a medical scare or the illness of a friend or relative. It then can wax and wane over a person's life, flaring up during stressful times. It affects men and women equally.

    "Hypochondriacs get caught in a cycle," says Arthur J. Barsky, MD, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of Stop Being Your Symptoms and Start Being Yourself. "The more they worry about a symptom, the worse it gets." They're often highly attuned to bodily sensations that most people ignore. Every ache, every cough, every stomach gurgle is evidence of something going catastrophically wrong.

    Hypochondriacs don't just dwell on their disease, they act. They scour the Internet for information, earning some the moniker "cyberchondriacs." They demand lab tests from irritated doctors. They talk about it relentlessly.

    Many of them can even admit that their fears don't make sense. In fact, the symptoms associated with hypochondria are not under the person's voluntary control. "I know I'm a hypochondriac," says David. "But when I get obsessed with a symptom, I can't shake the feeling that this time I really am sick."

    Some experts compare hypochondria with anxiety disorders, especially obsessive-compulsive disorder. Just as someone with OCD has to check that the lights are off a dozen times, the hypochondriac can't resist researching and checking his symptoms.

    Today on WebMD

    young leukemia patient
    Article
    Unhappy couple
    Article
     
    embarrassed woman
    SLIDESHOW
    clown
    Quiz
     
    Phobias frightened eyes
    Slideshow
    podium
    Article
     
    organize
    Article
    stressed boy in classroom
    Article
     
    Distressed teen girl in dramatic lighting
    Article
    man hiding with phone
    Article
     
    chain watch
    Article
    tarantula
    Article