Hypochondriasis belongs to the class of somatoform disorders, that is, disorders characterized mainly by symptoms of a physical nature, but lack organic findings. According to the DSM-IV-TR, the symptoms presented are not controlled voluntarily and cannot be explained by clearly documented physiological causes. Other disorders in this class include pain disorder, conversion pain and somatization disorder. The characteristic that defines hypochondriasis as a disorder is not just the preoccupation with the symptoms, but the idea or fear of contracting or having a major disease.
The basis of this fear is the gross misinterpretation of the body sensations and signs as evidence of a certain disease. Despite thorough medical evaluation as well as reassurance, the disease persists (Xiong, 2007). To address the anxiety arising from their preoccupations, hypochondriacs (people with hypochondriasis) may verbalize their symptoms, seek further information on their ‘disease’ form various sources of visiting a variety of specialists regarding their disease. Some individuals employ avoidance, keeping off things and events reminiscent of illness and death (Barry, 2007).
One of the causes of hypochondriasis is amplified sensory experience. The theory belying this is that hypochondriacs have very high sensitivity to their physical sensations be it heat rate, sounds in the digestive tract or event the taste and rate of saliva production. While most people pay little attention to discomforts in their day-to-day activities, individuals with hypochondriasis constantly monitor their inner sensations and the slightest variation is a serious cause for concern. The increased scrutiny only serves to heighten the intensity of the said sensations, which in turn fuels the fear that they point to an illness.
The arousal of these fears leaves an individual preoccupied with the development of the symptoms and this increases the sensation intensity. The inclination to amplify sensations my either be chronic or temporary or may be affected by certain situational factors. This explains why stress or events justifying illness worsen hypochondriasis (Barry, 2007). The second primary cause of hypochondriasis is attributed to distorted symptom interpretation. This theory posits that a hypochondriac’s internal bodily sensations are not necessarily of a higher intensity than those of the average person.
The distinguishing fact is that hypochondriacs are wont to catastrophically misinterpret the physical symptoms they present. There is gross pessimism with respect to their health, coupled with overestimation of the probability of falling sick. Therefore, hypochondriasis represents cognitive bias; while most individuals make the assumption that they are healthy unless there is non-ignorable evidence of an ailment, hypochondriacs assume they are ill unless proved otherwise. Interestingly, research indicates that hypochondriacs, compared to most people, make better estimations regarding their exposure to disease.
Some studies show that there is a high likelihood that people suffering from hypochondriasis had serious or frequent illnesses in their childhood. This may be the reason for the development of the negative cognitive bias with respect to the interpretation of symptoms or physical sensations (Barry, 2007). Other factors attributed to the development of hypochondriasis are history of sexual or physical abuse, inherited susceptibility to the disorder, poor emotive expression and close contact with a relative suffering from the disorder. This last factor affects children most (Cleveland Clinic, 2009).
Diagnostic criteria under the subject of hypochondriasis (DSM-IV-TR) include the fear of having a serious disease, the preoccupation persisting despite appropriate medical intervention. The belief in the patient’s mind in is not of delusional intensity and is not confined to concerns about appearance. The preoccupation lasts for not less that six months and causes clinically significant impairment or distress. The final criterion is that the preoccupation cannot be explained by anxiety, another mood or any other somatoform disorder (Xiong, 2007). DSM-IV-TR also takes into account hypochondriasis with and without poor insight.
Insight is an indication of patients’ ability to recognize whether their concerns are unreasonable or excessive (Barry, 2007). Even though treatment of hypochondriasis has traditionally proved difficult, behavioral, along with cognitive treatment, has demonstrated great efficacy on addressing the symptoms related to the disorder. The aim of cognitive therapy is to lead patients to the realization of the problem they face is fear, rather than vulnerability to disease. Patients monitor their worries, evaluating how reasonable or realistic they are.
They are also encouraged to propose alternative explanations for all the signs they usually take as symptomatic of disease. The aim of behavioral experiments is to modify patients’ habitual thoughts. Other branches of therapy include exposure as well as response prevention and behavioral stress management. Proper nutrition, the use of herbs, homeopathy and acupuncture have also been proposed as possible treatment avenues (Ehrlich, 2008). The contemporary world has become health conscious with people being constantly bombarded with messages that remind them to take frequent medical screenings covering a variety of illnesses.
In addition to this, detailed breakdowns of the diseases affecting political figures and celebrities are highly publicized. Novel diagnostic techniques for instance full body MRI scans may give fresh impetus for hypochondriacs to seek expensive, yet very unnecessary medical consultations. One plausible way of limiting excessive use of the said services is to refer patients that may possibly have hypochondriasis to psychotherapists (Barry, 2007). Addressing hypochondriasis as early as possible may lead to massive gains with respect to successful treatment. References: Barry, D.
, (2007). Hypochondriasis. Retrieved March 17, 2009, from http://www. minddisorders. com/Flu-Inv/Hypochondriasis. html Cleveland Clinic, (2009) Hypochondriasis. Retrieved March 17, 2009, from http://my. clevelandclinic. org/disorders/Hypochondriasis/hic_Hypochondria sis. aspx Ehrlich, S. D. , (2007) Hypochondriasis. University of Maryland Medical Center. Retrieved March 17, 2009, from http://www. umm. edu/altmed/articles/hypochondriasis-000089. htm Xiong, G. , L. , (2007). Hypochondriasis. Retrieved March 17, 2009, from http://emedicine. medscape. com/article/290955-overview