Caption =
DiseasesDB =
ICD10 = ICD10|F|45|2|f|40
ICD9 = ICD9|300.7
MedlinePlus =
eMedicineSubj =
eMedicineTopic =
MeshID = D006998

Hypochondriasis (or hypochondria, sometimes referred to as "health phobia") refers to an excessive preoccupation or worry about having a serious illness. Often, hypochondria persists even after a physician has evaluated a person and reassured him/her that his/her concerns about symptoms do not have an underlying medical basis or, if there is a medical illness, the concerns are far in excess of what is appropriate for the level of disease. Many people suffering from this disorder focus on a particular symptom as the catalyst of their worrying, such as gastro-intestinal problems, palpitations, or muscle fatigue.

The DSM-IV-TR defines this disorder, “Hypochondriasis,” as a somatoform disorderAmerican Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed., text revised, Washington, DC, APA, 2000.] and one study has shown it to affect about 3% of the population.cite journal |author=Escobar JI, Gara M, Waitzkin H, Silver RC, Holman A, Compton W |title=DSM-IV hypochondriasis in primary care |journal=Gen Hosp Psychiatry |volume=20 |issue=3 |pages=155–9 |year=1998 |pmid=9650033 |doi=10.1016/S0163-8343(98)00018-8|url=http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0163-8343(98)00018-8]

Hypochondria is often characterized by fears that minor bodily symptoms may indicate a serious illness, constant self-examination and self-diagnosis, and a preoccupation with one's body. Many individuals with hypochondriasis express doubt and disbelief in the doctors' diagnosis, and report that doctors’ reassurance about an absence of a serious medical condition is unconvincing, or un-lasting. Many hypochondriacs require constant reassurance, either from doctors, family, or friends, and the disorder can become a disabling torment for the individual with hypochondriasis, as well as his or her family and friends. Some hypochondriacal individuals are completely avoidant of any reminder of illness, whereas others are frequent visitors of doctors’ offices. Other hypochondriacs will never speak about their terror, convinced that their fear of having a serious illness will not be taken seriously by those in whom they confide.

Etymology and colloquial use

The term "hypochondria" comes from the Greek "hypo-" (below) and "chondros" (cartilage - of the breast bone), and is thought to have been originally coined by Hippocrates. It was thought by many Greek physicians of antiquity that many ailments were caused by the movement of the spleen, an organ located near the hypochondrium (the upper region of the abdomen just below the ribs on either side of the epigastrium). Later use in the 19th Century employed the term to mean, “illness without a specific cause,” and it is thought that around that time period the term evolved to be the male counterpart to female hysteria. In modern usage, the term "hypochondriac" is often used as a pejorative label for individuals who hold the belief that they have a serious illness despite repeated reassurance from physicians that they are perfectly healthy; it is sometimes also confused with malingering.

Manifestation and comorbidity

Hypochondriasis manifests in various ways. Some people have numerous intrusive thoughts and physical sensations that push them to check with family, friends and physicians. Other people are so afraid of any reminder of illness that they will avoid medical professionals for a seemingly minor problem, sometimes to the point of becoming neglectful of their health when a serious condition may exist and go undiagnosed. Yet, some others live in despair and depression, certain that they have a life-threatening disease and no physician can help them, considering the disease as a punishment for past misdeeds. Fallon BA, Qureshi, AI, Laje G, Klein B: Hypochondriasis and its relationship to obsessive-compulsive disorder. "Psychiatr Clin North Am" 2000; 23:605-616. ]

Hypochondriasis is often accompanied by other psychological disorders. Clinical depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (also known as OCD), phobias and somatization disorder are the most common accompanying conditions in people with hypochondriasis, as well as a generalized anxiety disorder diagnosis at some point in their life. Barsky AJ: Hypochondriasis and obsessive-compulsive disorder. "Psychiatr Clin North Am" 1992; 15:791-801. ]

Many people with hypochondriasis experience a cycle of intrusive thoughts followed by compulsive checking, which is very similar to the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, while people with hypochondriasis are afraid of having an illness, patients with OCD worry about getting an illness or of transmitting an illness to others. Fallon BA, Qureshi, AI, Laje G, Klein B: Hypochondriasis and its relationship to obsessive-compulsive disorder. "Psychiatr Clin North Am" 2000; 23:605-616. ] Although some people might have both, these are distinct conditions.

Patients with hypochondriasis often are not aware that depression and anxiety produce their own physical symptoms that might be mistaken for signs of a serious medical disease. For example, people with depression often experience changes in appetite and weight fluctuation, fatigue, decreased interest in sex and motivation in life overall. Intense anxiety is associated with rapid heart beat, palpitations, sweating, muscle tension, stomach discomfort, and numbness or tingling in certain parts of the body (hands, forehead, etc.)

Factors contributing to hypochondria

Cyberchondria is a colloquial term for hypochondria in individuals who have researched medical conditions on the Internet. The media and the Internet often contribute to hypochondria, as articles, TV shows and advertisements regarding serious illnesses such as cancer and multiple sclerosis (some of the common diseases hypochondriacs think they have) often portray these diseases as being random, obscure and somewhat inevitable. Inaccurate portrayal of risk and the identification of non-specific symptoms as signs of serious illness contribute to exacerbating the hypochondriac’s fear that they actually have that illness.

Major disease outbreaks or predicted pandemics can also contribute to hypochondria. Statistics regarding certain illnesses, such as cancer, will give hypochondriacs the illusion that they are more likely to develop the disease. A simple suggestion of mental illness can often trigger one with hypochondria to obsess over the possibility.

It is common for serious illnesses or deaths of family members or friends to trigger hypochondria in certain individuals. Similarly, when approaching the age of a parent's premature death from disease, many otherwise healthy, happy individuals fall prey to hypochondria. These individuals believe they are suffering from the same disease that caused their parent's death, sometimes causing panic attacks with corresponding symptoms.

A majority of people who experience physical pains or anxieties over non-existent ailments are not actually "faking it", but rather, experience the natural results of other emotional issues, such as very high amounts of stress.

Our emotions have cognitive, physiological and feeling components. For example, when one is sad, an individual may simultaneously experience muscle weakness and loss of energy. Whether it is an emotional memory, a vivid fantasy, or a present situation, the brain treats it the same. It is a real experience processed through neural paths.

Family studies of hypochondriasis do not show a genetic transmission of the disorder. Among relatives of people suffering from hypochondriasis only somatization disorder and generalized anxiety disorder were more common than in average families. Fallon BA, Qureshi, AI, Laje G, Klein B: Hypochondriasis and its relationship to obsessive-compulsive disorder. "Psychiatr Clin North Am" 2000; 23:605-616. ] Other studies have shown that the first degree relatives of patients with OCD have a higher than expected frequency of a somatoform disorder (either hypochondriasis or body dysmorphic disorder). Bienvenu OJ, Samuels JF, Riddle MA, Hoehn-Saric R, Liang KY, Cullen BAM, Grados, MA, Nestadt G: The relationship of obsessive-compulsive disorder to possible spectrum disorders: results from a family study. "Biological Psychiatry" 2000, 48:287-293. ] Many people with hypochondriasis point out a pattern of paying close attention to bodily sensations, preventative investigations, and checking with physicians, that they have learned from family members, but there is no definitive scientific support for this notion.

Anxiety and depression are mediated by problems with brain chemicals such as serotonin and norepinephrine. The physical symptoms that people with anxiety or depression feel are indeed real bodily symptoms, and are in fact triggered by neurochemical changes. For example, too much norepinephrine will result in severe panic attacks with symptoms of increased heart rate and sweating, shortness of breath, and fear. Too little serotonin can result in severe depression, accompanied by an inability to sleep, severe fatigue, and requires medical attention.


To treat hypochondriasis, one must acknowledge the interplay of body and mind. If a person is sick with a medical disease such as diabetes or arthritis, there will often be psychological consequences, such as depression. Some even report being suicidal. In the same way, someone with psychological issues such as depression or anxiety will sometimes experience physical manifestations of these affective fluctuations, often in the form of medically unexplained symptoms. Common symptoms include headaches; abdominal, back, joint, rectal, or urinary pain; nausea; itching; diarrhea; dizziness; or balance problems. Many people with hypochondriasis accompanied by medically unexplained symptoms feel they are not understood by their physicians, and are frustrated by their doctors’ repeated failure to provide symptom relief. Common to the different approaches to the treatment of hypochondriasis is the effort to help each patient find a better way to overcome the way his/her medically unexplained symptoms and illness concerns rule her/his life. Current research makes clear that this excessive worry can be helped by either appropriate medicine or targeted psychotherapy.

For a long time, hypochondriasis was considered untreatable. However, recent scientific studies show that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs; e.g., fluoxetine and paroxetine) are effective treatment options for hypochondriasis as demonstrated in clinical trials. Barsky AJ, Ahern DK: Cognitive behavior therapy for hypochondriasis: a randomized controlled trial. "JAMA" 2004; 291:1464-1470. ] Clark DM, Salkovskis PM, Hackman A, Wells A, Fennell M, Ludgate J, Ahmand S, Richards HC, Gelder M: Two psychological treatments for hypochondriasis, a randomized controlled trial. "Br J Psychiatry" 1998; 173:218-225. ] Fallon BA, Schneier FR, Marshall R, Campeas R, Vermes D, Goetz D, Liebowitz MR: The pharmacotherapy of hypochondriasis. "Psychopharmacol Bull" 1996; 32:607-611.] Fallon BA, Qureshi AI, Schneiner FR, Sanchez-Lacay A, Vermes D, Feinstein R, Connelly J, Liebowitz MR: An open trial of fluvoxamine for hypochondriasis. "Psychosomatics" 2003; 44:298-303. ] Greeven A, Van Balkom AJ, Visser S, Merkelbach JW, Van Rood YR, Van Dyck R, Van der Does AJ, Zitman FG, Spinhoven P: Cognitive behavior therapy and paroxetine in the treatment of hypochondriasis: a randomized controlled trial. "Am J Psychiatry" 2007; 164:91-99.] CBT, a psycho-educational “talk” therapy, helps the worrier to address and cope with bothersome physical symptoms and illness worries and is found helpful in reducing the intensity and frequency of troubling bodily symptoms. SSRIs can reduce obsessional worry through readjusting neurotransmitter levels and have been shown to be effective as treatments for anxiety and depression as well as for hypochondriasis.

In the United States, NIH-funded studies are now underway to compare different treatment approaches for hypochondriasis: a study in the New York City areacite web |url=http://www.illnessworry.cumc.columbia.edu |title=cumc.columbia.edu |accessdate=2007-12-20 |format= |work=] and a study in the Boston area.cite web |url=http://www.thehealthstudy.com/index.html |title=The Health Study - Home |accessdate=2007-12-20 |format= |work=] In these studies, patients will be given one of four treatments: supportive therapy with fluoxetine, supportive therapy with placebo, cognitive behavior therapy, or cognitive behavior therapy with fluoxetine. For more information, visit the external links cited below.

In Norway a clinic specializing in the treatment of hypochondria has been opened.

Cultural references

* (1673) Molière’s final play, "Le Malade Imaginaire", lampoons a credulous miser who relies on quack doctors. Ironically Molière, himself something of a hypochondriac, complained of feeling unwell shortly before fatally collapsing on stage during the fourth performance of the play.

* (1911) Zenobia Frome, in the novel "Ethan Frome" by Edith Wharton, is portrayed as having hypochondriac tendencies.

* (1960) In the film "The Little Shop of Horrors", Seymour’s mother is a hypochondriac to the extent that Seymour is unfamiliar with foods with no medicinal purpose; presumably all the food his mother had prepared was some form of a cure.

* (1986) In the hit film "Ferris Bueller's Day Off", Ferris’s friend Cameron Frye (portrayed by Alan Ruck) displays some symptoms of hypochondria throughout the movie, notably when he lies in bed thinking he is sick, until Ferris convinces him that it is all in his head.

* (1986) In the book "It", Eddie Kaspbrak’s mother is a hypochondriac who convinces her son that he is frail and has asthma, even though he does not. She even argues with doctors regarding her son’s health, although this may be more akin to munchausen syndrome by proxy.

* (1991) In the film "My Girl", the leading character, Vada, is a hypochondriac most likely due to her being raised in a funeral home.

* (1991) In the TV series "Northern Exposure", the character Eve (Adam's wife) is portrayed as having hypochondria.

* (2000) In the TV series "Boy Meets World", Cory is diagnosed with hypochondria and sees it as a real illness. (Episode “I'm Gonna Be Like You, Dad,” season 7)

* (2001) In the film "Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain" (The fabulous life of Amélie Poulain), Isabelle Nanty’s character, "Georgette", is a hypochondriac.

* (2001) In the film "Bandits", one of the bank robbers (portrayed by Billy Bob Thornton), Terry, is a hypochondriac. The other bank robber, Joe, used this to his advantage and as a joke to get Terry to worry, he claimed that his brother had a brain tumour and one of his symptoms was that he could smell burning feathers.

* (2003) In the TV series "Scrubs", recurring character Harvey Korman, portrayed by actor Richard Kind, is a hypochondriac who appears in several episodes. His most notable appearance was in the episodeMy New Old Friend.” Lloyd the delivery guy has also been noted as a hypochondriac.

* (2003) In the film Dogville, Tom Edison's father; Thomas Edison Sr., a doctor, played by Philip Baker Hall, has hypochondriac tendencies, including a constant self-examination and an over-use of prescribed medication.

* (2005) In the 2005 DreamWorks Animation film "Madagascar", a giraffe, Melman, is portrayed as a hypochondriac.

* (2005) On the show "South Park", Stan Marsh’s father, Randy Marsh, is described by his son as a hypochondriac in the episode “Bloody Mary.”
* (2006) In the videogame "Splinter Cell Double Agent", the computer tech, Stanley Dayton, is a hypochondriac.

See also

* Cyberchondria
* Munchausen syndrome
* Somatosensory amplification
* Medical students' disease


External links


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • hypochondriasis — [hī΄pōkän drī′ə sis, hī΄pəkän drī′ə sis; ] also [hip΄ōkän drī′ə sis, hip΄əkän drī′ə sis, hī΄pōkəndrī′ə sis, hī΄pəkəndrī′ə sis; ] also [hip΄ōkəndrī′ə sis, hip΄əkəndrī′ə sis] n. HYPOCHONDRIA: term preferred in medicine * * * hy·po·chon·dri·a·sis… …   Universalium

  • Hypochondriasis — Hy po*chon dri*a*sis, n. [NL. So named because supposed to have its seat in the hypochondriac regions. See {Hypochondriac}, {Hypochondrium}, and cf. {Hyp}, 1st {Hypo}.] (Med.) A mental disorder in which melancholy and gloomy views torment the… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • hypochondriasis — 1766, from HYPOCHONDRIA (Cf. hypochondria) + an unusual use of OSIS (Cf. osis) …   Etymology dictionary

  • hypochondriasis — [hī΄pōkän drī′ə sis, hī΄pəkän drī′ə sis; ] also [hip΄ōkän drī′ə sis, hip΄əkän drī′ə sis, hī΄pōkəndrī′ə sis, hī΄pəkəndrī′ə sis; ] also [hip΄ōkəndrī′ə sis, hip΄əkəndrī′ə sis] n. HYPOCHONDRIA: term preferred in medicine …   English World dictionary

  • hypochondriasis — Hypochondria Hy po*chon dri*a, n. [NL.] (Med.) An excessive concern about one s own health, particularly a morbid worry about illnesses which a person imagines are affecting him, often focusing on specific symptoms; also called {hypochondriasis} …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Hypochondriasis — A disorder characterized by a preoccupation with body functions and the interpretation of normal body sensations (such as sweating) or minor abnormalities (such as minor aches and pains) as portending problems of major medical moment. Reassurance …   Medical dictionary

  • Hypochondriasis —    The notion of hypochondriacal melancholy goes back to the Ancients, signifying a particular form of melancholy in which the hypochondrium (area beneath the ribs) is mainly affected. Felix Platter (1536–1614), professor of medicine at Basel,… …   Historical dictionary of Psychiatry

  • hypochondriasis — noun (plural hypochondriases) Etymology: New Latin Date: 1766 morbid concern about one s health especially when accompanied by delusions of physical disease …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • hypochondriasis — noun A mental disorder characterized by excessive fear of or preoccupation with a serious illness, despite medical testing and reassurance to the contrary. See Also: hypochondria, hypochondriac …   Wiktionary

  • hypochondriasis — n. obsessive preoccupation with the possibility of becoming ill or with imagined symptoms of an illness (Psychiatry) …   English contemporary dictionary

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