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Hypochondria is a mental disorder in which the person has the belief that he or she is suffering from a serious illness.

Hypochondriacs often require constant reassurance, sometimes from multiple doctors, family and friends which may represent a big problem. This fear of disease or preoccupation with symptoms is not only unpleasent but it interferes with the patient's daily life in a negative way.

The most common fears are related to illnesses such as ALS, brain tumors, melanoma, and AIDS - the illnesses which are incurable or have a low rate of recovery.

Hypochondria is often associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety, and can also be brought on by stress. The good news is that with treatment, many hypochondriacs recover from this disorder.

History of the term

The word hypochondria is derived from the ancient Greek terms:

  • hypo, which means below, and
  • hondros, which means cartilage.

It refers to a set of symptoms which were thought to have been caused by a disorder of the anatomical organs beneath the cartilages of the ribs. This included:

  • disorders of the liver and spleen,
  • disorder originating beneath the breastbone
  • base of the heart,
  • junction of the esophagus and the stomach
  • diaphragm

Incidence

Because patients with hypochondria usually see their primary care physicians rather than go to mental health clinics or join psychiatric research programs, it is difficult to determine how many people actually suffer from this disorder. Estimates range from 0.8% to 8.5% of the general US population. This condition seems to occur equally in men and women. Children sometimes pretend they are ill in order to avoid going to school but it must be understood that this is not hypochondria. Real hypochondria can be a life-long problem if left untreated. Most people with the disorder refuse referral to a mental health professional.

Effects of hypochondria on general health

It is proven that hypochondria can cause:

  • Anxiety attacks or panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Fear of impending doom
  • Loss of appetite
  • Decreased libido
  • Increased self-consciousness
  • Decreased motivation in life.

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