Persevering and anxious, hypochondriacs are looking for symptoms that could confirm their suspicions. They constantly control their own body and organ functions. Hypochondriacs sometimes measure hourly body temperature and blood pressure, constantly feeling for nodules or other changes.
Hypochondria: No male phenomenon
Completely normal physical reactions often rate hypochondriacs incorrectly. If they are out of breath after four levels of stair climbing, they do not interpret that as a sign of lack of fitness, but as a first indication of lung cancer. Studies by the Psychological Institute of the University of Mainz showed that about seven percent of Germans have exaggerated health concerns.
Researchers from the Universities of Marburg and Dresden, on the other hand, regard hypochondria as a rare disease. The psychologists surveyed 4, 181 randomly selected Germans between the ages of 18 and 65 in a standardized interview. Only three of them showed symptoms of severe hypochondriasis; less than three percent suffered from marked or unrealistic disease concerns.
Men and women are about equally affected, all age groups are represented. The myth of exclusively male hypochondrias is therefore untenable.
Hypochondriac among medical students
Nevertheless, there are actually accumulations of hypochondriacal behavior, such as among medical students. They tend to discover those symptoms in oneself that are currently in the current lecture topic. As a rule, this mild form of hypochondria ("morbus clinica") quickly passes.
Television transmissions to certain forms of illness also attract imaginary patients. In the days following the broadcast of a program about colorectal cancer, Ebola virus or avian influenza in the spectator secretariats of the television editorial offices and in the practice doctors reported conspicuously many people who fear to suffer precisely from this disease. The mere mention of a disease or the typical symptoms can therefore cause the symptoms.
Triggers and causes
But individual causes also usually play an important role:
- Hypochondriacs are often inherently anxious and cautious people, who have been afraid of disease since puberty.
- Often they experience a serious illness or a hospital stay at a young age.
- Sometimes a chronically ill family member is the trigger.
- An anxious and overprotective environment also plays a role. For example, if the child is not allowed to go to school because of a harmless cold, but is put into bed.
- Even a very painful life event such as the death of a loved one can trigger the disorder.
Discovering a hypochondriacal disorder is not easy. First, the doctor must make sure that none of the feared physical ailments actually exists. Important is a thorough physical examination. If he does not find a disease, it means: talk to the patient, enlighten him and look for possible solutions together.
Various criteria also help with the diagnosis. Since the fear of illness can also be the result of or similar to some other mental illnesses, physicians must consider these options. For example, the habit of hypochondriacs constantly checking their bodily functions ("checking behavior") is reminiscent of obsessive-compulsive disorder. As these patients constantly check the door or oven, hypochondriacs are constantly checking their health.
In addition, the constant fear of a serious illness on the mood. About half of hypochondriacs also suffer from a more or less pronounced form of depression. Therefore, it is usually necessary to consult a specialist who has experience with hypochondriacs: for example, a psychiatrist, psychotherapist or specialist in psychosomatic medicine. Because the permanent fear of illness is a mental illness, not a physical one.