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Related to hypochondriasis: somatization disorder




Hypochondriasis is a mental disorder characterized by excessive fear of or preoccupation with a serious illness, despite medical testing and reassurance to the contrary. It was formerly called hypochondriacal neurosis.


Although hypochondriasis is often considered a disorder that primarily affects adults, it is now increasingly recognized in children and adolescents. In addition, hypochondriasis may develop in elderly people without previous histories of health-related fears. The disorder accounts for about 5% of psychiatric patients and is equally common in men and women.

Causes and symptoms

The causes of hypochondriasis are not precisely known. Children may have physical symptoms that resemble or mimic those of other family members. In adults, hypochondriasis may sometimes reflect a self-centered character structure or a wish to be taken care of by others; it may also have been copied from a parent's behavior. In elderly people, hypochondriasis may be associated with depression or grief. It may also involve biologically based hypersensitivity to internal stimuli.
Most hypochondriacs are worried about being physically sick, although some express fear of insanity. The symptoms reported can range from general descriptions of a specific illness to unusual complaints. In many instances the symptoms reflect intensified awareness of ordinary body functions, such as heartbeat, breathing, or stomach noises. It is important to understand that a hypochondriac's symptoms are not "in the head" in the sense of being delusional. The symptoms are real, but the patient misinterprets bodily functions and attributes them to a serious or even lethal cause.


The diagnosis is often complicated by the patient's detailed understanding of symptoms and medical terminology from previous contacts with doctors. If a new doctor suspects hypochondriasis, he or she will usually order a complete medical workup in order to rule out physical disease.
Psychological evaluation is also necessary to rule out other disorders that involve feelings of anxiety or complaints of physical illness. These disorders include depression, panic disorder, and schizophrenia with somatic (physical) delusions. The following features are characteristic of hypochondriasis:
  • The patient is not psychotic (out of touch with reality or hallucinating).
  • The patient gets upset or blames the doctor when told there is "nothing wrong," or that there is a psychological basis for the problem.
  • There is a correlation between episodes of hypochondriacal behavior and stressful periods in the patient's life.
  • The behavior has lasted at least six months.
Evaluation of children and adolescents with hypochondriasis should include the possibility of abuse by family members.


The goal of therapy is to help the patient (and family) live with the symptoms and to modify thinking and behavior that reinforces hypochondriacal symptoms. This treatment orientation is called supportive, as distinct from insight-oriented, because hypochondriacs usually resist psychological interpretations of their symptoms. Supportive treatment may include medications to relieve anxiety. Some clinicians look carefully for "masked" depression and treat with antidepressants.
Follow-up care includes regular physical check-ups, because about 30% of patients with hypochondriasis will eventually develop a serious physical illness. The physician also tries to prevent unnecessary medical testing and "doctor shopping" on the patient's part.


From 33-50% of patients with hypochondriasis can expect significant improvement from the current methods of treatment.



Eisendrath, Stuart J. "Psychiatric Disorders." In Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment, 1998, edited by Stephen McPhee, et al., 37th ed. Stamford: Appleton & Lange, 1997.

Key terms

Somatoform disorder — A category of psychiatric disorder characterized by conversion of emotional distress into physical symptoms or by symptoms of physical illness that have no discernible organic cause. Hypochondriasis is classified as a somatoform disorder.
Supportive therapy — Any form of treatment intended to relieve symptoms or help the patient live with them rather than attempt changes in character structure.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a somatoform disorder marked by a preoccupation with one's health bodily functions and by exaggeration of normal sensations (such as heart beats, sweating, peristaltic action, and bowel movements) and minor complaints (such as a runny nose, minor aches and pains, or slightly swollen lymph nodes) into a strong belief of serious problems needing medical attention. Negative results of diagnostic evaluations and reassurance by health care providers only increase the patient's anxious concern about his health, although the concern is not of delusional intensity. adj., adj hypochon´driac, hypochondri´acal.
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.


A morbid concern about one's own health and exaggerated attention to any unusual bodily or mental sensations; a delusion that one is suffering from some disease for which no physical basis is evident.
[fr. hypochondrium, regarded as the site of hypochondria, + G. -iasis, condition]
Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012


n. pl. hypochondria·ses (-sēz′)
The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


Hypochondria Psychiatry An exaggerated concern of diseases or medical disorders that can result in psychosomatic Sx; excessive concern for perceived bodily Sx despite assurance that such concern is unfounded. See Medical school syndrome.
McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


A morbid concern about one's own health and exaggerated attention to any unusual bodily or mental sensations; a delusion that one is suffering from some disease for which no physical basis is evident.
Synonym(s): hypochondria.
[fr. hypochondrium, regarded as the site of hypochondria, + G. -iasis, condition]
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012


A morbid concern about one's own health and exaggerated attention to any unusual bodily or mental sensations; delusion one is suffering from some disease for which no physical basis is evident.
Synonym(s): hypochondria.
[fr. hypochondrium, regarded as the site of hypochondria, + G. -iasis, condition]
Medical Dictionary for the Dental Professions © Farlex 2012
References in periodicals archive ?
Three of the scales which load on IEC (Psychopathic Deviate, Hypomania, and McAndrew Alcoholism) capture primarily impulsivity, acting out, and imperturbability, while Hypochondriasis, Hysteria, and Paranoia represent repression, projection, denial, and reaction formation.
Somatization and hypochondriasis. New York, NY: Praeger Scientific, 1986.
Cognitive behavior therapy for hypochondriasis: A randomized controlled trial.
The condition, also known as nosemaphobia or hypochondriasis, is one of the most common reasons people seek therapy through Anxiety UK.
Keywords: Health anxiety, Hypochondriasis, Medical student's disease, Medical student syndrome.
We conceptualized this clinical case as a complicated griefwith secondary panic attacks and hypochondriasis. In the setting provided, patient was able to do her grief work and adapt/cope with her lost, with the subsequent resolution of the symptoms.
Pryse-Phillips, in his seminal paper, highlighted the importance of depression as the most common psychiatric comorbidity with ORS but other comorbidities have also been described in literature including bipolar disorder, personality disorders, schizophrenia, hypochondriasis, alcohol and substance use disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and body dysmorphic disorder [1, 8].
Immature defense--includes projection, fantasy, hypochondriasis, passive aggression, acting out and dissociation.
Even some medical trainees may exhibit hypochondriasis until they have gained a sense of clinical perspective (the so-called "second-year medical student" syndrome), and a little knowledge can be dangerous.
Nonetheless, these intrusions have also been described in other disorders, such as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) (Osman, Cooper, Hackmann, & Veale, 2004), Hypochondriasis or Illness Anxiety (HYP) (Muse, McManus, Hackmann, Williams, & Williams, 2010), and Eating Disorders (EDs) (Blackburn, Thompson, & May, 2012; Roncero, Perpina, & Belloch, 2010).
Results indicated that the missionary candidate sample was significantly different by date of birth on Scale 1 (Hypochondriasis) (F(2,372) = 5.01, p =.007, eta squared = .026).