Among patients who throng our out-patient departments, nearly three per cent come with vague complaints such as pain, abstract abdominal discomforts, loss of appetite, disturbed sleep and headache. All possible investigations are made and on perusing the reports, the physician does not detect any abnormality.
The patient is informed. But, he or she is unconvinced. They think that they are a victim of serious cardiac problems, colon cancer or maybe even brain tumour. Then, second or third opinions are also often taken to learn otherwise. Even at home, such a person is never happy, is always tensed and worried about their imaginary illness.
This is hypochondria, a disease that is not a disease. The hypochondriac always concentrates on himself or herself and is preoccupied with their body. They constantly examine themselves and have a self-diagnosis for any minor disturbance like headache or cough. They have no faith in any doctor who tells them that they are perfectly healthy.
But in some cases, some real abnormalities may be detected, like a slight rise in blood pressure or weight loss, for which he or she craves constant assurances by medical personnel, family members and friends.
Some of them may even speak out their imaginary problems and remain morose. Here, there may be a persistent refusal to accept medical advice. This hyper-vigilance about the body might cover up real, serious disorders also. As a result, caregivers may choose to ignore them. This results in the actual problem going untreated.
Hypochondriacs are always negative in their attitude. While those with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) are constantly apprehensive of contracting a disease, a hypochondriac believes that they are already harbouring a serious malady. They may also repeatedly research medical conditions online.
Why exactly does one get into such a situation? Most of the victims of hypochondria are women. They find it a good way to vent their latent frustrations. A serious disease or premature death in the family or friends’ circle may also trigger this. Usually, hypochondriacs are not outgoing and do not have any interests.
A hypochondriac usually disturbs the family. So, something should be done to correct their condition. They badly needs distractions. They should be taught relaxation exercises.
Proper, efficient counselling goes a long way in helping them. A person well-versed in communicating and interpreting religion sometimes relieves them of the symptoms.
Antidepressants suggested by a psychiatrist should help in certain cases. By staying positive, one can avoid the nasty effects of hypochondria.
(The author is a consultant gynaecologist)