Did you know, that James Boswell and Charles Darwin suffered from a disorder known as ‘Hypochondriasis’? Also known as somatic symptom disorder and illness anxiety disorder, the condition can be a self-destructive one in chronic cases. Hypochondria has existed for ages. However, in its present form, the condition has evolved to become what is now called ‘Cyberchondria’. The problem is not just the disorder itself, but the fact that people are generally ignorant about it and refuse to accept it as a mental condition.
Hypochondria is a mental condition in which an individual is certain of having a serious or even life-threatening medical condition. In some people, health anxiety is so augmented that in their minds, a normal stomach pain might be indicative of cancer, and a headache may very well mean a brain tumour.
Such are the generalisations which people suffering from Hypochondria usually make. Very often, individuals refuse to believe their physicians, who rightly tell them that the minor symptoms are not a precursor to some serious illness. However, Hypochondriacs simply are not satisfied with such diagnosis. It is as though they believe with utmost conviction that they suffer from a life-threatening disease. A study published in JAMA defines Hypochondria as “a persistent fear or belief that one has a serious, undiagnosed medical illness.”
Rising cases of hypochondria in patients align with rising healthcare facilities and health awareness among the people. This is further exacerbated by the era of Google. Hypochondria, in the digital age has been on the rise, and has come to be known as ‘Cyberchondria’.
It is a fact that before visiting a physician, most individuals usually have a brief look at their symptoms by surfing the internet, and arrive at their own conclusions about what exactly they are suffering from. It is a normal practice. What is not normal, however, is when an individual thinks he/she knows better about diagnosing an illness than a medical practitioner. Cyberchondriacs take it upon themselves to diagnose their disorders. This is a deep cause of worry. Not only does it lead to excessive anxiety, but also be a point of contention between a doctor and the patient.
Such individuals persist upon having a severe disease, and therefore urge the physician to suggest related medical tests. When the test results arrive as negative, the patients either disbelieve the results, or find an alternate severe illness to worry about. With the rise of greater health facilities, greater awareness and the illusion created by the cloud of information on the internet, that one can be diagnosed by merely googling their symptoms, more and more people are turning hypochondriac, making it a leading mental illness.
A full throttle hypochondriac convinces themselves, beyond reassurance, beyond comfort and beyond anything, that a cut is never merely a cut, and that a cough is never merely a cough, but might rather be an indicator of tuberculosis. It goes on from believing in one having pain in some part of the body, to actually feeling the pain. That’s when one knows that the condition has spiralled into severity.
The Symptoms Include:
- A fear of normal bodily function and organ/organ system movement.
- A specific focus- Hypochondriacs may either focus on one particular organ, or a specific disease, and they may even fear successive diseases.
- Talking only about illness- one obsessively, and excessively speaks about one’s health and the disease they perceive to be having.
- Regular doctor visits and medical tests
- Depression and severe anxiety.
A multiplicity of causes may contribute to an individual developing Hypochondria. Among these, the major causes can be:
- Losing a loved one due to a severe and fatal illness. A personal trauma majorly contributes to the development of Hypochondria.
- Being surrounded by Hypochondriacs also influences an individual to develop the condition themselves.
- Individuals suffering from depression, severe anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder are at a higher risk of developing the condition.
- A lack of general bodily awareness and how the body operates and even protects itself when faced by external agents, plays a big role in the development of Hypochondria.
The duration of Hypochondria among individuals is usually six months or less. This, however may become a prolonged condition and turn severe if ignored. Avoiding medical health is the last thing which one must do when faced with such a condition. Not only is Hypochondria curable by medication, but also cognitive therapy is helpful. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and the use of serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as fluoxentine and paroxetine are used in the treatment of Hypochondria. Prozac can help reduce symptoms within twelve weeks.
According to a study by PewResearch Center, 72% of surveyed internet users have searched for health information online in 2015 in the United States, and 35% US adults have tried to self-diagnose a medical condition. Self diagnosis can not only be ill-informed and absolutely incorrect, but it can also lead to more problems and anxieties.
Hypochondria or Cyberchondria, whatever one decides to call it, is much like compulsive medical schizophrenia. The internet can only be guide, it cannot be a replacement to a medical practitioner with on-ground and first-hand experience. People need to stop taking diagnosis of diseases into their own hands. It will not only help proliferate the already existing condition, but will also be a wastage of resources in the wrong direction.