Hypochondriacs suffer from a type of mental illness known as hypochondriasis (or hypochondria), which is now classified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as either Somatic Symptoms Disorder or Illness Anxiety Disorder (IAD). This chronic anxiety-related disorder is mental and not physical, and it often presents similarly to obsessive-compulsive disorder.
According to research from the University of Maryland’s Medical Center, roughly 80-percent of hypochondriacs also suffer from anxiety, depression, or another mental disorder. Hypochondria causes intense fear of illness—even though there’s no evidence of an actual physical condition (i.e., via doctors visits, medical exams, and tests).
The following hypochondria symptoms can cause extreme anxiety and paranoia, and are typically out of the patients’ control…
Convinced of Ill Health
Hypochondriacs have the tendency to believe they have a condition, illness, or disease after reading about it in the paper or online, and/or after hearing someone else talking about having a condition, even if they don’t show any primary symptoms of a condition. They can become so convinced of ill health that their anxiety persists even after the doctor hands off a clean bill of health.
Booking Frequent Medical Appointments
Hypochondriacs make frequent medical appointments or seek out doctors repeatedly to ask for voluntary medical tests –for instance x-rays, echocardiograms, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs). This can become a financial burden because they are constantly paying for their reassurance at the price of extra and unnecessary tests and x-rays.
Constantly Searching for a Second Opinion
The University of Maryland Medical Center notes that a hypochondriac is someone who cannot shake the idea of being sick even after reassurance from their health care provider. The Mayo Clinic backs this claim up by writing that a hypochondriac, “[finds] little or no reassurance from doctor visits or negative test results.”
To make matters worse, WebMD says they will search until they find a doctor who gives them the answer they want to hear. If a person is actually knowingly suffering from an illness like cancer, then it doesn’t hurt to get a second opinion, but if there is no given proof of any ill health and a patient is seeking multiple opinions, they are likely suffering from hypochondria. So how do they justify constantly switching doctors? They are usually convinced that their physician missed something, or because they want more tests and scans done that their primary physician will not offer.
Constantly Researching Health
Let’s face it, we’ve all done this before. You come down with a few strange symptoms and begin to self diagnose over the internet. Hypochondriacs will often seek answers to health-associated issues, but on a more persistent basis. They are constantly conducting health research which is not healthy because more often than not, they are drawing conclusions that are much more serious than what the actual problem is, if there even is one.
Robert L. Leahy, PhD in Psychology Today told Bustle that hypochondriacs are “obsessive.” They get so far down the rabbit hole of symptom checkers and Wikipedia pages that they become convinced their minor ailment is something much worse. It’s always good to be informed and proactive when it comes to our health, but it’s unhealthy to create unnecessary stress for no real reason.
Non-Stop Talk About Health Issues
Unrelenting discussion, complaints, and talk about personal health—for instance obsessive talk about new health symptoms or mysterious conditions with coworkers, family, and socially. Bustle writes, “Those with illness anxiety disorder require near constant reassurance that they are healthy, so they may take their worries straight from their doctor’s appointment to lunch with friends. Their health may be the only thing they ever talk about, because the fear is constant and all-consuming.”
Constant Physical Scrutiny
The frequent examination of the body for any sign of a medical illness or condition (i.e., rashes, lesions, as lumps, etc.) to the degree of obsession or paranoia. This can include the constant monitoring of vitals—for instance, the frequent checking of blood pressure, heart rate, or cholesterol—also to the point of obsession.
Exaggerating Minor Symptoms
Taking even minor symptoms—such as accelerated heart rate, muscle aches and pains, or a headache—as the sign that you have a serious, life-threatening condition or illness is something a hypochondriac would do. Their mind immediately goes to the worst case scenario. For instance, a hypochondriac may be convinced a simple headache is a brain tumor.
“Rather than viewing your body functions as variable and involving occasional discomfort (aches, pains, headaches, nausea, dizziness), you believe that anything less than perfect functioning or feeling is a sign that you have a serious illness,” says Dr. Leahy. “But bodies and functions are not perfect. A headache is likely to be a sign of nothing special. But you may jump to conclusions because your default is death.”
The persistent, intense fear and belief that you have a serious illness, disease, or health condition to the point of obsession and paranoia (even when multiple health practitioners say you are healthy). This happens even when the person feels perfectly fine! They have an irrational way of thinking when it comes to their health.
For example, their fear might become heightened if one of their friends becomes sick. Even if they haven’t seen them in a long time, their paranoia is so strong they’ll worry they too could be infected.
Convinced an Illness will Progress
Similar to being convinced of ill health, if by unfortunate chance a hypochondriac does actually become sick, whether it’s a simple cold or the case of the flu, they will become convinced that their sickness will turn into something much more serious.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, “IAD can also trigger worries in people who do have a physical illness that they are sicker than they really are. The disorder is not about the presence or absence of illness, but the psychological reaction.” People suffering from this chronic-anxiety disorder will constantly be on high alert, especially when they are actually sick, as a way to protect themselves from further illness.
Paranoia Interferes with Their Life
As previously mentioned, a good way to gauge whether a person is overly concerned about their health to the point of hypochondria is to determine whether their paranoia is affecting their daily life. It’s more than just googling a few symptoms. People who suffer from this condition become so consumed by their fear that it takes over their life.
“This condition goes beyond having a normal concern for one’s health. It has the potential to interfere with a person’s quality of life, including their abilities to: work in a professional or academic setting, function on a daily basis, and create and maintain meaningful relationships,” says Healthline.
Avoiding Places Out of Fear
According to the Mayo Clinic, a hypochondriac can become so overwhelmed by their fear of becoming sick that they find it hard to function in their daily life. For example, they’ll begin to avoid certain places or activities to avoid becoming sick or contracting a disease. It can be a very isolating and debilitating condition.
If someone at their place of work is sick, they might try to find reasons to not come into work out of fear of catching that person’s illness.
Frequently Switching Physicians
Frequently switching doctors for second, third, and fourth opinions after a primary physician says there’s nothing medically wrong or refuses to conduct medical tests (i.e., MRIs, etc.) is symptomatic of hypochondriasis. They might switch doctors frequently because their primary physician refuses to indulge in their patient’s paranoia, so they are forced to bounce around from doctor to doctor.