Hypochondria (or Disease Anxiety Disorder) is a disorder characterized by excessive worry related to the fear of contracting a disease or the belief that you are suffering from a serious illness, based on the misinterpretation of physical signs and symptoms, although an objective medical evaluation does not identify sufficient reasons to justify such fears or beliefs. In general, medical reassurances have the immediate effect of reducing discomfort and worries, but only temporarily and for a few hours or days.
For the purpose of a correct diagnosis of Hypochondria, it is obviously appropriate to have carried out a complete medical evaluation which must have ruled out any general medical conditions that could explain the concerns that the person complains.
Hypochondria can arise as a result of various risk factors present in a person’s life: stressful psycho-social factors, for example illness or death of a person very close to the patient, which sensitizes him to the fear that the same may happen to him condition;
more educational factors, for example a parenting style characterized by overprotective attitudes from early childhood, reflecting an image of weakness; in fact, people with hypochondria often describe themselves as fragile, weak, more vulnerable to disease.
Consequences of Hypochondria
The consequences of this condition are different: the person who suffers from it will tend to develop or reinforce the idea of himself as a weak, fragile person, easily attacked by diseases; moreover, the weakness is related both to the physical level (tiredness, ease of getting sick, etc.) and to the psychological one understood as hypersensitivity to experiencing exaggerated emotions which, in the long term, can still damage the person, to the fear of not managing them and therefore to be overwhelmed.
This condition inevitably has effects on people close to the patient who, in the long term, manifest feelings of tiredness, stress compared to exaggerated worries and the constant search for reassurance.
Treatment of Hypochondria
According to current guidelines, the treatment of hypochondria involves psychotherapy and, if necessary, also pharmacological intervention.
Usually the pharmacological intervention is based on antidepressants and / or anxiolytics, aimed at calming anxiety.
Regarding the various forms of psychotherapy, several studies indicate cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy as the first choice treatment. Psychoeducational interventions are also effective.
The cognitive-behavioral treatment focuses mainly on identifying and interrupting the vicious circles typical of hypochondria.
In fact, in order to manage anxiety, the person implements a series of behaviors (protective, avoidance) that become factors in maintaining the disorder itself; for example, the checks that the person carries out on the body keep attention on the issue of diseases, are interpreted as signs of serious illnesses, the fact of constantly checking oneself generates skin irritations which, in turn, will become further signs that are read as confirmation of the presence of a serious illness.
The treatment consists of various levels of intervention: in the early stages of treatment there is a psychoeducational intervention that explains the disorder to the person; interventions aimed at offering an alternative and more objective explanation of the problem, introduction of the cognitive model of the disorder, with the aim of starting to consider other hypotheses before the catastrophic one (of having a disease). Different techniques are used to question the patient’s beliefs, through direct belief checks and behavioral experiments.