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When Medical Anxiety Goes Too Far

| Articles | February 22, 2014

People get sick, catch diseases, get infected by pathogens, and just have moments when they don’t feel well. For the most part, there can be any number of reasons for this sort of thing to be real. Viruses, bacteria, neurological agents, chemical imbalances in the body, and over-straining the body both physically and mentally can all be named causes. It is therefore natural that people feel apprehension and anxiety when faced with the thought of disease and sickness. However, to allow oneself to be so caught up in the possibility of getting sick, to the point that even the slightest changes in the body are interpreted as an illness, is an illness in itself.

Hypochondria is a disorder that is characterized by excessive anxiety over the possibility of illness, usually with a specific illness in mind. This problem can also cause someone to consult with multiple doctors, switching from one to another. Such behavior can sometimes stem from the belief that the hypochondriac has contracted an illness, interpreting even minutiae as symptoms. However, the reality is that the body has not contracted an illness, so no doctor would be able to find the signs of the “disease” that the hypochondriac claims he’s contracted. Of course, when confronted with this diagnosis, the hypochondriac finds it unacceptable and moves on to another doctor, in the hopes that the next one will recognize his problem and prescribe the appropriate treatment.

This excessive medical anxiety, of course, brings with it a number of side effects, a large number of which are unpleasant. Strained relationships can be particularly prominent in some cases, especially if the hypochondriac in question believes that others around him are potential carriers for the pathogens he is worried about. Social interaction can also prove to be a problem if this fear becomes prevalent, due largely to the fact that the hypochondriac becomes increasingly unwilling to engage in physical contact and may sometimes exhibit extreme anxiety at the prospect of close contact with another human being. Many of them develop the inability to accept the fact that they aren’t actually ill, even when reassured by several medical professionals that such is the case. In others, they experience such anxiety at the prospect of discovering their worries to be true that they don’t visit doctors to avoid such.

The side effects and intensity of hypochondria can vary from patient to patient, however. Some of these patients can display the behavior mentioned above, shifting from doctor to doctor, in the hopes of finding one willing to confirm their worries. Others live in fear of the possibility of being told that they are sick, and avoid having to visit any sort of medical office whenever possible. Some can be relieved by being given a placebo that appears similar to the actual medication used for whatever pathogen they fear they’ve contracted. Finally, others have low-intensity cases, where the worrying and anxiety is more covert, relegated to being little more than a lingering worry in the back of their minds. Regardless of the intensity, hypochondria is a serious condition that can cause a person to do things or take medication that they would not take otherwise.

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