Also known as health anxiety, or somatic symptom disorder, Hypochondriasis is an anxiety disorder in which the sufferer worries that they have a life-threatening disorder. Often times triggered by normal bodily aches and pains, a person suffering from Hypochondriasis will perceive these normal pains as signs of impending doom, and might make multiple trips to doctors or hospitals to gain reassurance. Oftentimes, even when the sufferer is cleared by a doctor, their fears will persist and they will have to seek multiple opinions which never seem to be conclusive enough to quell the anxiety they feel. It is common for those suffering from this anxiety disorder to worry they may have AIDS, HIV, ALS, Lou Gehrigs disease, or other types of neurological or fatal conditions.
Common compulsions in Hypochondriasis
· Excessive googling or time spent on WebMD looking at symptoms
· Constant checking or touching of the parts of the body where the pain is perceived
· Seeking reassurance from friends, doctors and family members
· Ruminating on what you felt like before the pain started
· Ruminating on what life could be like after your feared diagnosis
· Hyper-vigilance towards any perceived change in body sensations or levels of fatigue
A difficult issue in hypochondriasis is that when we concentrate on a certain body part excessively, or touch or prod it repeatedly, we can actually create sensation there. The sufferer will see this as a sign that their symptoms are getting worse and can become quite anxious and distressed. Health anxiety can be co-morbid with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and other anxiety disorders. Hypochondriasis is highly treatable and can be addressed with a combination of Cognitive Behavioral therapy (CBT), Mindfulness and Acceptance practices, and Exposure and Response prevention (ERP). With the proper treatment strategy, the client will learn how to manage the intrusive thoughts (ex: “what if I have ALS?”) and will begin to slowly accept the presence of their unwanted emotions.