We are all, in a way, afraid of the possibility of suffering from an illness in the future. But when this fear is disproportionate and inappropriate, the person ends up developing a phobia. And when in addition, the disease in question is meningitis, we talk about meningitophobia.
There are more phobias in some diseases, although this focuses on diseases of the brain. In this article, we will know what it is, what characterizes it, how it differs from other disorders such as hypochondria, its symptoms, causes and possible treatments.
Meningitophobia: what is it?
Phobias are intense and disproportionate fears of a particular stimulus or situation. This fear can prevent the person from functioning normally. So, phobias differ from fears in which the intensity of the former is much higher, as well as the interference that it causes in the daily life of the affected person.
In the DSM-5 (Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders), phobias are classified as “specific phobias” and are a type of anxiety disorder. Specifically, meningitophobia is the phobia of suffering from a brain disease (Especially meningitis).
Diseases of the brain can be of different types; can be related to genetics, metabolic, stroke, stroke, infections, tumors, traumaSubstance use, epilepsy …
Meningitis, a disease generally feared in meningitophobia, is an infection of the meninges (membranes that cover the central nervous system), usually caused by a virus (in 80% of cases). Meningitis, however, can also be caused by bacteria (between 15 and 20% of cases) or by other factors: poisoning, drugs, fungi and other illnesses.
Meningitophobia concerns a specific phobia classified as “other types of phobia” in the DSM-5. Remember that this manual groups specific phobias into 5 groups, depending on the feared stimulus: animal phobia, blood / injection / wound, natural situations, situational phobia and other types of phobias.
Besides, there are more phobias classified as “other”: phobia of drowning, phobia of vomiting, phobia of contracting some kind of disease (as in the case of meningitophobia), etc. In children, common phobias considered to be “another type of phobia” include the phobia of people in disguise, clowns, and loud sounds, among others.
Phobia to get sick
Like meningitophobia, there are more phobias related to the fear of contracting a certain disease. Some of them are: caridiophobia (pathological fear of heart attacks), carcinophobia (pathological fear of cancer) or luiphobia (pathological fear of syphilis).
These phobias they can lead the sufferer to believe that they have actually contracted the disease they fear so much, Even feel the symptoms (which in fact “do not exist”).
This causes the person to misinterpret each symptom as being specific to the disease, even if they do not have enough evidence to do so. As a result, verification behaviors, security behaviors, etc. (typical of other disorders, such as hypochondria) may appear in the patient. The same would happen with meningitophobia.
The main symptom of meningitophobia is intense, irrational and disproportionate fear of suffering from meningitis or brain disease in general. This fear appears even in the absence of evidence of suffering or being in danger (which is why it is considered a disproportionate fear).
Logically, contracting diseases arouses fear or respect (and even more so if they are diseases of the brain), but when this fear becomes pathological (too intense or disabling), meningitophobia appears.
This fear can manifest itself in other symptoms, such as: high anxiety, irritability, nervousness, sweating, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, Etc. When the fear is very intense, panic attacks can even appear.
On the etiological level, the fear of falling ill (in general) can be linked to the ancestral and evolutionary responses of human beings, who have avoided approaching stimuli or situations likely to cause some kind of disease, such as a mechanism of illness. adaptation and survival. So, evolutionarily, these types of responses had a certain meaning and function.
however, in phobias, this adaptive mechanism is dysfunctional and seems exaggerated. This is the case with meningitotophobia (and other phobias linked to the disease).
Other possible causes of the same are previous traumatic experiences related to brain disease, vicarious experiences, conditioning, etc., as well as a genetic predisposition to suffer from anxiety disorders.
Differences from hypochondria
In order to correctly diagnose meningitophobia, we need to make a correct differential diagnosis. One of the disorders with which it is recommended to do this is hypochondria, due to its similar characteristics:
Hypochondria (referred to as “pathological disorder” in DSM-5) is a disorder classified under the category of “somatic and related disorders”. Its main feature is that the patient manifests great anxiety and intense fear of suffering from a serious illness.
In some cases, this fear appears due to the belief of suffering and illness. But how does the disorder arise? This results from the patient’s misinterpretations of all of their symptoms. (Or signs), associating them directly with the disease in question. In reality, however, there is no disease (or if it exists, the symptoms are unrelated to it).
The main difference between hypochondria and meningitophobia is that in the first case fear appears in various diseases (or those that are kept in mind), while in meningitophobia fear n ‘appears only when faced with the possibility of suffering from a brain disease. As we have seen. , meningitis). Outraged, while hypochondria is a somatic disorder, meningitophobia is an anxiety disorder (How phobic).
Finally, another distinctive feature between the two disorders is that in hypochondria, many other associated symptoms appear (verification of behaviors, visits to many doctors, histrionic symptoms, misinterpretation of symptoms, etc.). In contrast, in meningitophobia, the basic fear is the fear of meningitis.
Specific phobias are treated with exposure techniques and cognitive techniques. In fact, exposure therapy is the first recommended treatment option because it is the one that offers the best results. This implies that the patient gradually approaches the feared stimuli (through a hierarchy of phobic items ordered by the degree of discomfort they cause).
Exposure therapy can be accompanied by relaxation and breathing techniques (in this case we are talking about systematic desensitization, a type of therapy where a relaxing response incompatible with anxiety is achieved during exposure).
In the specific case of meningitophobia, exposure may consist of a progressive “approach” to the disease by the patient, rather metaphorically; this can be done through access to explanations of the disease, photographs, videos, contact with people who actually suffer from meningitis, etc.
In the case of this particular phobia, moreover, it will be advisable to combine explanatory therapy with cognitive techniques such as cognitive restructuringAs it is a phobia where the stimulus is difficult to “manage” (since the patient is not really suffering from the disease).
In this way, cognitive techniques will help the patient to have a more realistic view of the likelihood of contracting meningitis and will reduce and / or eliminate the intense fear of suffering.
- American Psychiatric Association (APA) (2014). DSM-5. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Madrid. Panamericana.
- Belloch, A., Sandín, B. and Ramos, F. (2010). Manual of psychopathology. Volumes I and II. Madrid: McGraw-Hill.
- Pérez, M., Fernández, JR, Fernández, C. and Amic, I. (2010). Guide to Effective Psychological Treatments I: Adults. Madrid: Pyramid