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Hypochondria: When the fear of disease becomes a disease itself

Published on December 19, 2022 at 17:43 / Updated on December 20, 2022 at 16:41

With our ability to access a great deal of information, many of us search for medical information on the internet. Obviously, what we find is not always accurate and credible; it is important to verify sources and ensure that they are credible.

If you’re spending a lot of time researching or you're constantly concerned about your health, you may believe that you're a hypochondriac. But is that really the case?

What is hypochondria?

Hypochondria is often defined as the fear of being sick. This isn’t entirely wrong, but hypochondria is a little more than that.

In fact, it's the excessive fear of having a serious illness. Very often, the hypochondriac person misinterprets certain symptoms. It will also cause them to doubt the results of their medical check-ups and examinations.

Worrying about your health or that of your loved ones is normal, up to a certain point. In fact, the definition of hypochondria includes the term “excessive.” If your fears are not excessively abnormal, then those fears are normal. If the anxiety generated by these fears becomes too much to handle, this is hypochondria.

What are the symptoms?

Hypochondria can manifest itself in several behaviours, such as:

  • Frequent analysis of your body for signs of illness
  • Intense worry about having a disease
  • Being convinced that a mild symptom is a sign of a serious illness
  • Spending too much time researching the disease online, also known as “cyberchondria”
  • Increased medical consultations

Some symptoms related to stress and anxiety may also occur. These include:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Decreased appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability or even anger
  • Isolation

What kinds of people are at risk of being hypochondriacs?

Anxious people and those who have an active imagination are the most predisposed to hypochondria. Hypersensitive people, as well as those who’ve had a traumatic experience related to illness or death, are also at risk.

What can you do if you’re a hypochondriac?

Adopting healthy lifestyle habits is the basis of treatment for hypochondriacs. In fact, as bad lifestyle habits can lead to disturbances in the body, hypochondriacs could interpret this as symptoms of a disease.

Being physically active is part of a healthy lifestyle. It can also be extremely beneficial for controlling anxiety. Relaxation exercises can have a favourable effect on stress management.

There are things you can do to better live with anxiety:

  • Treat yourself from time to time
  • Stay in touch with people who make you feel good
  • Limit the factors that cause you stress
  • Set your limits

How do you deal with a loved one who is a hypochondriac?

Knowing how to interact with a hypochondriac loved one isn’t easy. It's okay to feel helpless or even frustrated; it doesn't make you a bad person. Your loved one needs your support and not to feel judged.

Know that it’s useless to question a hypochondriac person’s anxiety, but you can try to explain to them that the symptoms for which they worry are probably explainable.

When should you consult a professional?

When the situation is out of control, and the behaviours related to hypochondria have a significant impact on the activities of daily living, you should consult a health professional.

Cognitive-behavioural therapy is a recommended treatment. If therapy isn’t sufficient, there are medications available. However, the side effects of medications may have the paradoxical result of increasing anxiety and worry.

What is the role of COVID-19 in all of this?

The COVID-19 pandemic has plunged everyone into the unknown. This situation can affect people both physically and psychologically.

It’s normal to feel insecure about the virus and its spread. However, if these fears become too significant in your daily life, it’s important to talk about them. There are many resources available to help you. The 811 information service is a gateway to finding help, so don’t hesitate to use it.

If you have any questions, especially those related to your medications, you should always discuss them with your pharmacist.

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