You are reading an article about the outbreak of meningitis on college campuses. Symptoms of those who contracted the disease included joint pain, drowsiness, headaches, and fever. You quickly feel your forehead. It feels cool…no, actually, it does feel quite warm.
You notice a dull ache in your knees (never mind that you went running last night for longer than you are used to). After the large Italian lunch you had earlier, you DID feel like taking a nap and, come to think of it, you WERE a bit drowsy. Is that a headache coming on, you wonder, as you begin to notice a throb in the back of your head. If this sounds like you, you may be a hypochondriac.
Hypochondria is defined as an intense preoccupation with the physical body and health. Hypochondriacs are often convinced they are inflicted with a serious, life-threatening disease, despite the fact that several visits to the doctor have indicated nothing of the sort.
Hypochondria is often referred to as the medical student’s disease, as up to 70% of medical students have had temporary hypochondria, due to their overexposure to information on all types of diseases and maladies. If you feel you suffer from hypochondria, take comfort in the fact that you are in good company. Some of the more famous sufferers you may recognize include Beethoven, Immanuel Kant, and Charles Darwin.
How do you know if you suffer from hypochondria? If you answer the majority of the following questions in the affirmative, you are probably a fellow hypochondriac.
- If you turn on the news and catch the tail end of a medical report about ovarian cancer and hear that one of the symptoms is abdominal discomfort, do you rush to the computer to do a search on ovarian cancer because you were feeling slightly gassy that day?
- Do you get annoyed when you are talking to your friends about symptoms you may be having and they brush it off as if it is nothing?
- You are sitting at your desk and feel a slight twinge in your back muscle. Do you instantly rush to your medical dictionary or visit WebMD.com to look up the symptom back spasm?
- Is your copy of the medical dictionary well-worn, dog-eared, or full of Post-It notes?
- Have you visited your doctor at least four times for the same ailment?
- Do you still feel uneasy about a disease you feel you may have, despite the fact that you have had numerous blood tests, MRIs, CAT Scans, or X-rays?
If you read these questions and nodded your head up and down frantically while reading them, you may be a hypochondriac. For most hypochondria sufferers, this anxiety does not consume every waking thought. However, there are some for which hypochondria, if not treated, can become almost debilitating.
If you feel you are one of the latter, consult your physician and he/she may recommend you to a behavioral specialist. Everybody can grow anxious about their health every now and again. Who doesn’t worry that cancer may one day affect them? It is a matter of realizing that hypochondria is simply what it is, irrational anxiety.
A behavioral specialist will form a supportive relationship with the hypochondriac, never denying the symptoms they may have. They will counsel the patient against frivolous medical tests that will cost both the patient and the hospital money, as well as help the patient control their hypochondria symptoms.