How To Tell If You Have Hypochondria

In the wake of COVID-19 — during which misinformation ran rampant and health-related fear-mongering relegated people to their homes, derailing everyday life across the globe — it's no surprise that the idea of getting sick became a source of anxiety for many people. While the fear of getting COVID may have been many people's first experience with illness anxiety, a very small percent of the population live with a disorder that leaves them with a constant feeling of dis-ease surrounding the possibility of disease.

Hypochondria, or illness anxiety disorder, is characterized by an obsessive and impractical fear that one either already has, or is at high risk of procuring, a serious illness (per Cleveland Clinic). For people with hypochondria, a clean bill of health and the absence of symptoms can do little to change their conviction that something is seriously wrong with them. The obsession may begin to take a toll on their careers and interpersonal relationships, as well as both their physical and mental health.

Hypochondria commonly presents in three ways: as a fear of becoming ill, as a certainty that illness is already present, or as a preoccupation with real or imagined symptoms in the body. The Center for Anxiety Disorders points out that hypochondria usually rears its ugly head during early adulthood, often with the help of a catalyst — like the severe illness or death of a loved one.

Symptoms and treatment

K Health explains that in two out of three cases of hypochondria, another psychiatric disorder (such as panic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder) is also present. With that said, much like other anxiety disorders, hypochondria can incite physical symptoms like upset stomach, fatigue, increased heart rate, and shortness of breath. Such symptoms only exacerbate the fear of disease.

For people with hypochondria, scanning the body for signs of illness is done routinely, and many normal bodily functions can be misinterpreted as a symptom of something dire (per Mayo Clinic). Often there will be a preoccupation with a particular illness. While some hypochondriacs may seek frequent medical care and incessantly request testing, others may go the opposite route and avoid doctors for fear of being disregarded or worse, diagnosed. Those who do procure medical testing will ignore good news and maintain that something has been missed. Many hypochondriacs spend hours scouring the internet for answers to their health questions and have exhaustive conversations about the state of their health.

Illness anxiety disorder can be diagnosed after an assessment by your doctor, psychiatrist, or psychologist, at which point you may be treated with antidepressants or cognitive behavioral therapy (per Cleveland Clinic). The Center for Anxiety Disorders also recommends some self-help options to minimize the negative effects of hypochondria. These include refraining from consulting the internet, learning to differentiate between which sensations in the body are normal and which are cause for concern, and finding a few relaxation techniques that work for you.