Hypochondriasis

What Is It?

Hypochondriasis is a persistent fear of having a serious medical illness. A person with this disorder tends to interpret normal sensations, bodily functions and mild symptoms as a sign of an illness with a grim outcome. For example, a person may fear that the normal sounds of digestion, sweating or a mark on the skin may be a sign of a serious disease.

A person with hypochondriasis may be especially concerned about a particular organ system, such as the cardiac or digestive systems. A doctor's reassurance and even a complete medical evaluation often will not calm the person's fears. Or, if it does calm them, other worries may emerge days later.

Generally, people with this disorder do not develop "somatic delusions" (ideas about health that are completely divorced from reality). One common perspective on this disorder is that health anxiety is so great that reassurance is only temporarily helpful at best. Patients may admit the possibility that their fears are exaggerated. However, they may not accept being told that there is "nothing wrong."

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