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Every doctor meets a particular category of patients – hypochondriacs - during his practice. They tend to take piles of drugs, request a lot of examinations, change their physicians one after another, have millions of complaints, they are convinced they have incurable diseases… Truly, they are seriously ill.  But they have a disease which they would never admit. A psychiatric disease.

Let Us Start from the Beginning

The term hypochondria is known for a long time – for several hundred years. It is a psychiatric disorder, which belongs to a group of somatoform disorders. Scientists disagree about its classification and causes until now, but this is not the most important topic in this article.

It is thought that about 3 percent of the population has hypochondria, though the number might be higher, as hypochondriacs usually do not admit their problem, and do not seek for specialized help. This problem is more common in women, though it is possible in men.

How does a Person Become a Hypochondriac?

The origin of hypochondria is not entirely known. It is considered to consist of various factors: genetic, social as well as psychological. For example, hypochondria may be influenced by the parents’ behavior, in other cases, it might be a learned behavior in the family (a child would only get an attention when he/she was ill). Other causes include difficult social conditions, traumatic events (divorce, loses) and some personality disorders (hysterical). Hypochondria emerges in young age (the third decade); its course is usually wavy – with remissions and relapses.

How to Recognize a Hypochondriac?

A hypochondriac has one or several "seeming" diseases (for example, he/she is convinced to have cancer). These ideas are provoked by insignificant symptoms, for example, increased sweating. But the main problem is fear and anxiety. These patients go to various doctors, request the most complicated examinations, and when a doctor, after a careful examination, happily tells him/her there is nothing to worry about, the hypochondriac takes offense and changes the physician. Again, new examinations, nothing pathological is found, again, a new doctor…

This is the way how these patients "break" into big medical centers, and when their "organic" disease is not determined, they make conflicts and threaten with trials. Their doctors become tired of them, they occupy places in hospitals and precious time is taken away from really ill patients. But a hypochondriac never admits his problem, and a psychiatrist is the only doctor he would never go to.

Can Hypochondria Become Complicated?

Yes, it can, and very seriously. Firstly, hypochondria tires the patients themselves: thoughts about the imaginary disease take over their life, occupy their time, disturb their work. These thoughts lead to depression, anxiety and sleep disorders. Later their condition might provoke real somatic diseases. Secondly, hypochondriacs waste their doctors’ (especially family doctors suffer from these patients), other patients’ time, the state’s funds. One more serious problem: during the years of complaining about unreasonable symptoms, all doctors know the patient "by heart". When he/she is really ill, the doctors might not believe it. So, hypochondria can be a fatal disease.

Is it Possible to Cure Hypochondria?

This disorder is not easy to cure. Firstly, the patient has to admit his/her problem, and this is almost impossible to achieve. The disorder is treated by a psychiatrist. Group psychotherapy is quite effective. If there are comorbid disorders such as depression, anxiety and sleep disorders, they can be treated with drugs.


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