by Marshaneil Soumi D’ Rozario | 16 JULY 2018
It is not unusual to catch the occasional cold, or suffer from a sore throat or fever. One often takes it in stride, taking some medicine to alleviate the symptom, and continues going about their daily routine. For some, however, these symptoms are signs of more fatal, chronic diseases. They visit doctors with the hope of a diagnosis dismissing their suspicions. Such anxiety about the state of their health is known as Hypochondria.
Hypochondriacs exhibit characteristics of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and are preoccupied with their own physical health. They are obsessed with or irrationally afraid of the thought of being afflicted by a life-threatening medical condition. The disorder is fairly common, with India seeing a million cases every year.
“The onset of this disorder is early adulthood, although it can surface at any point in time. Stick with one doctor, forget about self-checks, be social and share the concern with similar people. In addition, regular exercising and spending much time with family and friends will also be helpful,” advises Dr Praveen Ankathi, Sr. Consultant HOD, Dept of Neuro Surgery at Gleneagles Global Hospitals.
Behavioural manifestations of health anxiety vary widely. Some seek information and reassurance, while others exhibit avoidant behaviour. Patients are hyper-vigilant and sensitive about normal physiological fluctuations and bodily sensations; turning to frequent visits to doctors for reassurance that they might not end up finding comforting. They might also turn to online sources of medical information, and ‘experience’ certain symptoms after reading or hearing about them. This preoccupation with their supposedly compromised well-being also appears often in conversations, frustrating people around them.
On diagnosis, the psychosomatic disorder can be treated with cognitive therapy. Proper medical assurance and non-threatening explanations for the bodily sensations they frequently misinterpret as threatening symptoms of underlying diseases can be provided as means of assurance to the patients. While health anxiety is difficult to battle due to its irrationality, good quality, long-term therapy and level-headed counselling will help lessen its effect on the patient.
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