If someone is often very worried about their health, even when their doctor tells them that nothing is seriously wrong, they might be affected by hypochondria.
What is hypochondria?
Hypochondria is a type of anxiety disorder. It is also known as health anxiety, or illness anxiety disorder, or hypochondriasis.
It is normal for people to worry about their health now and again. But people who experience hypochondria get very worried that they are seriously ill, or are about to become seriously ill. This can occur even if they have no symptoms, or their symptoms are very mild. They might even mistake normal sensations for symptoms of a serious illness.
Some people with hypochondria have a medical condition that they worry about excessively. Other people with hypochondria are healthy, but have an overwhelming fear about their health in the future. For example, they might think: “What if I get cancer?”
People with hypochondria can become so distressed and so anxious that they have trouble doing everyday things.
What causes hypochondria?
It is not clear why people have hypochondria, but it is more common in people who:
- have had major stress, illness or a death in the family
- were neglected or abused as a child
- have a serious physical illness
- have a mental health issue such as anxiety, depression, a compulsive disorder or a psychotic illness
- have a personality that tends to make everything seem worse than it is.
Certain activities can trigger an episode of serious concern in someone who is susceptible to hypochondriasis, including:
- reading about diseases on the internet
- watching something on television
- knowing someone with a serious medical condition
- feeling unwell or noticing lumps or bumps
Symptoms of hypochondria can include:
- thinking a lot about having a serious illness
- seeing a doctor many times, but not accepting reassurances
- seeking out lots of medical tests
- talking about health a lot with friends and family
- spending hours on the internet studying symptoms
- having problems sleeping
- having problems with family, work and social lives because of concerns about their health.
A doctor who is treating someone for hypochondria would examine them to look for physical problems. Their options then include:
- giving a clear and honest appraisal of the causes of concern
- providing the person affected with advice and self-help resources
- cognitive behavioural therapy
- referring the person to a counsellor or psychologist, especially if they think depression or anxiety might be making the symptoms worse
- prescribing medication such as antidepressants to reduce anxiety.
Where to get help?
If you think you or someone you know is affected by hypochondria, let them know that you are available to support them and that you want to help. Talk about what is going on, listen to them, and help them seek advice from a doctor or other health professional.
You can also use healthdirect's service finder to find a doctor or therapist.
Last reviewed: December 2017