Hypochondriasis: tips to deal with excessive concern for health

Hypochondriasis makes the person feel that they have a disease, usually a serious one, even though everything is really fine on a medical level. This belief is born from the misinterpretation of a series of bodily sensations, which are usually anxiety-type sensations, which the person magnifies and interprets as unequivocal signs of suffering from a disease.

But what else do we know about? Hypochondriasis (now called illness anxiety disorder? What are its symptoms and the psychological treatment of choice? What tips are the most useful to deal with excessive concern for health? We will tell you in Women’s Journal.

What exactly are hypochondria?

Hypochondriasis is an anxiety disorder that could affect 15-20% of the population. Head of Psychiatry, is one of the professionals who has studied the disorder the most in Spain, and assures that “it is a disease that has been diagnosed little and badly, but steps are being  taken to make amends.”

Hypochondriasis currently no longer receives this nomenclature, but rather illness anxiety disorder (although throughout the article we will use both concepts interchangeably). This is included in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders).

It is defined as a “disorder characterized by the presence of a high level of fear, worry and anxiety due to the belief or conviction of being suffering from, or by the possibility of contracting it”.

The belief of being sick derives from the perception of small alterations or sensations in the body, which are interpreted as unequivocal signs of serious disorders. Hypochondriasis can arise after having experienced a long (and/or painful) illness, or after someone close to you suffers from it.

Known symptoms of hypochondria

Following the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for illness anxiety, the main symptom of hypochondriasis is worry about having or contracting a serious illness. The following are added to this symptom:

  • There are no somatic symptoms or, if present, they are only mild.
  • If there is another medical condition or an elevated risk of developing a medical condition (for example, strong family history), the person’s concern is clearly excessive or disproportionate.
  • There is a high degree of anxiety about, and the person is easily alarmed by his state of health.
  • The person engages in excessive health-related behaviors (for example, may repeatedly check their body for signs of disease).
  • You can also avoid “adjusting” to this situation, for example by avoiding visits to the doctor and/or hospital.
  • The worry about the disease has been present for at least six months, but the specific feared disease may vary in that time period.
  • The illness-related worry is not better explained by another mental disorder (for example, ban).

Different types of hypochondria that you should know about

The DSM-5 indicates that to make a diagnosis of hypochondriasis we must indicate the type of disorder, being able to find two:

Hypochondria “type with request for assistance”: in this case the person frequently uses medical assistance, which includes visits to the clinician or tests and procedures.

“Care Avoiding Type” Hypochondriasis: In this type of hypochondriasis, the person rarely uses medical care (rather, avoids it).

Effective tips to treat hypochondria

The treatment of hypochondriasis is mainly psychological, since at the pharmacological level, there is no specific pharmacological treatment for this anxiety disorder.

In this sense, what is sometimes done is complement psychological therapy with the administration of anxiolytics or antidepressants so that the person is a little calmer and can benefit more from psychological therapy. But the therapy of choice is psychological. We talk about the most used.

The treatment of choice for hypochondriasis, at a psychological level, is cognitive-behavioral therapy, since it is the one that has shown the best results to date. We briefly explain what this type of therapy consists of.

Detect beliefs and their interference

This type of intervention seeks, firstly, to help the person to detect their beliefs regarding their state of health. The next step will be to help her identify to what extent, and in what way, they interfere with her well-being.

Raise an anxiety disorder and not a medical problem

In the following sessions, the alternative or possibility that your problem may have more to do with an anxiety than with a truly medical problem will be raised. In this way, they will be taught an explanatory model of the phenomenon (what we call psych education).

The ideal therapy to carry out all these steps is the therapy of Warwick and Salkovskis (1986), who also proposes preventing the patient’s response to search for reassuring information, when they go to the doctors and to perform tests that “confirm” their diagnosis. Or disease.

Behavioral experiments that demonstrate the opposite of what is thought

In this way, work begins on the activities that the person performs to check their state of health; it is proposed that he can perform experiments that contradict or “deny” his beliefs of him.

A commitment is also established with the patient so that they agree not to carry out these checks (called “safety behaviors”), and they are encouraged to carry out a small self-registration in which they write down:

  • Moments of anxiety
  • Conducts performed and not performed
  • The emotions you feel

In the self-registration, he will also write down the data for and against the suspicions he has of his possible illness, so that in the session he can question them and discuss them with the.

Exhibition in imagination

After these steps, the patient is helped to make an exhibition in imagination regarding his going to get sick or suffer from any disease. To do this, this imagination must be trained (including details, physical and psychological sensations…). The challenge is to learn to feel and tolerate these sensations without performing checking behaviors, and to realize and/or observe that “nothing is happening.”

The effects of self-focusing and distracting activities

On the other hand, the patient is also educated to understand the effects of self-focusing, that is, the fact of concentrating attention on their “symptoms” and sensations(typical in hypochondriasis), which what it does is increase discomfort and exacerbate physical sensations, as if they were more intense than they really are.

Activities can also be proposed to distract him so that he learns to vary his attention focus, that is, to identify and test what other things he can pay attention to beyond the body and bodily sensations.

Cognitive restructuring

Finally, another typical technique of cognitive-behavioral psychological intervention for hypochondriasis is cognitive restructuring. This allows the patient to replace his irrational thoughts of her in relation to his body of her and his possible illness of her, with other more realistic and objective ones.

If you think you might be experiencing the symptoms of hypochondriasis, or some of them, we encourage you to seek professional help to deal with excessive health concerns.

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