A headache is considered a clear sign of the presence of a brain tumor. Conjunctivitis probably indicates the incubation of a hemorrhagic fever. The appearance of a bruise is a clear indication that you are suffering from internal injuries due to illness. Discomfort in the arm implies that we are safely suffering from a heart attack.
While in some cases the association between the symptoms and the diseases I have cited is correct, a large part of the population is not alarmed when a particular symptom occurs: almost all people have had a headache. they had blue bloodshot eyes or discomfort and usually did not cause previous illnesses.
However, there are people who experience a high level of anxiety when they notice disorders that are generally considered to be mild and are convinced that they are suffering from a serious illness. These are people who suffer from hypochondria.
What is hypochondria?
It is understood by hypochondria, currently called disease anxiety disorder in DSM-5, A disorder characterized by the presence of a high level of fear, worry, and anxiety about believing or believing that you have a serious illness, or the possibility of contracting it.
This belief comes from the perception of small alterations or sensations that they are interpreted as unequivocal signs of serious disorders. It sometimes appears after the person or someone close to them has suffered from a long and painful illness or ended in the death of the patient.
What goes on in the mind of the hypochondriac
In cases where there is a conviction for illness, people with this disorder usually seek medical help in order to locate and diagnose the alleged problem, and it is common that when there is evidence showing their good health, the explanations do not satisfy them or they do so only temporarily and ask for further tests or seek other professionals to confirm their fears. However, some people with this disorder they choose to avoid going to the doctor for fear of being diagnosed, Despite very high anxiety and the belief that they are sick.
The high level of anxiety about their health that these people suffer from means that they are constantly focused on the existence of possible symptoms, as well as whether they are practicing or stopping practicing behaviors in order to check their condition. health.
The diagnosis of hypochondria assumes that these symptoms occur for at least six monthsWhile the disease is assumed to have may vary. This concern should not be confused or due to the existence of another mental disorder such as OCD or somatic disorders (although in some cases strong anxiety can lead to psychosomatic disorder). It is a disorder that can be very disabling and cause a high level of dysfunction in different areas of life (both personally and professionally or academically).
Causes of the disorder
Anxiety disorder due to illness or hypochondria has been known since ancient times, information is found there even in classical Greece. Throughout history, attempts have been made to establish different explanations for its etiology. At the psychological level, we can see that various schools and schools of thought have formulated their own explanations.
From the psychodynamic model, hypochondria has often been linked as an expression of internal conflicts with origin in mistrust of one’s own body born in childhood, with a transformation of hostility towards others which is redirected towards itself or the necessity of dependence or as the psyche’s attempt to respond and defend itself from guilt or weakness feels. However, this explanation is not scientifically validated.
From a psychosocial approach it is considered a learned behavior model which is learned in the face of the observation that it can bring benefits. It is proposed that the hypochondriac may be an insecure person who uses the idea of being sick as an unconscious mechanism to draw attention to his surroundings. It is important to note the fact that it is unconscious and involuntary.
However, one of the explanatory models that has received the most attention is the one proposed by Warwick and Salkovskis, Who considered that in the etiology of hypochondria, one can first find previous negative experiences in terms of health and disease (such as the death of a loved one due to a) which reveal the belief that the symptom implies something very negative,
These beliefs are activated after a triggering event and cause the appearance of automatic thoughts of a negative type which in turn generate anxiety. This anxiety will be enhanced by performing specific behaviors and increasing activation at different levels.
Treatment of hypochondria
Treatment for hypochondria can be complicated by the fact that, as a rule, the subject tends to maintain the belief that something physical is happening to them. In order to treat hypochondria, first we must exclude that there is no real pathology and once discarded, it is necessary to establish a good relationship between the therapist and the patient.
Initially, anxiety-like symptoms are usually treated first, then move on to the deeper aspects that cause and / or maintain the worry.
1. Psychotherapeutic intervention
Psychotherapy is used in the treatment with generally cognitive-behavioral techniques. The treatment in question is primarily to help the subject detect beliefs about their health and how they affect their life, then consider the alternative that may be trying an anxiety related problem and teaching – an explanatory model of the phenomenon (generally that of Warwick and Salkovskis).
After that, work begins on the different activities that the subject performs to check his condition, and it is proposed to jointly perform different experiments that contradict the beliefs of the individual. A commitment is established with the patient so that he agrees not to carry out certain verification activities, to indicate later that he must make a small file in which the anxiety occurs. write down the data for and against your suspicions so you can question them.
He is then helped to make an exhibition in imagination or even a flood on the idea of falling ill or suffering from the disease in question. The autofocus must also be worked, showing the importance that it has in the exacerbation of his discomfort and proposing activities which make it possible to vary the attentional focus.
Cognitive restructuring is also very helpful to combat dysfunctional beliefs. It is important to incorporate into any program applied against hypochondria elements which take into account the prevention of relapses. It is also helpful to train the environment so that they do not improve symptoms.
2. Pharmacological treatment
There is no specific pharmacological treatment for this type of problem, although anxiolytics and antidepressants are sometimes used to relieve the subject’s discomfort.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth edition. DSM-V. Masson, Barcelona.
- Avia, MD (1993). Hypochondria. Edicions Martínez Roca SA, Barcelona.
- Sants, JL; Garcia, LI; Calderon, MA; Sanz, LJ; of rivers, P .; Left, S .; Román, P .; Hernangómez, L .; Navas, E .; Lladre, A and Álvarez-Cienfuegos, L. (2012). Clinical Psychology. CEDE PIR preparation manual, 02. CEDE. Madrid.