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
"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
Panic attacks are unmistakable. You're involved in some ordinary aspect of life when suddenly your heart begins to pound and you hyperventilate, sweat, and tremble. You fear you are having a heart attack, going crazy, or even dying. Then, 10 minutes or so later, it's gone. What just happened? You have had a panic attack.
Panic attacks are fairly common, usually beginning between ages 15 and 25. If you have recurrent panic attacks, a persistent fear of subsequent attacks occurring, or if you...
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
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
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.