Hypochondria is a serious medical condition where the sufferer believes they are sick or even dying when in fact they are not. It can become a debilitating and all consuming anxiety disorder where the person becomes totally obsessed and immersed in their body.
There are different reasons why people have hypochondria. Many may simply be born with it. It may be triggered in others because of their fear of a serious illness that runs in their family. It also can be sparked by grief or loss, particularly the loss of a loved one and an inability to manage relationships. Alcoholism and drug dependency can also lead to hypochondria.
Treatment of hypochondria
Many psychiatric specialists treat hypochondria as an imaginary illness and link it to mental illness including schizophrenia, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. Often the treatment for hypochondria is specialist cognitive or behavioural therapy. However trying to radically change or correct the behaviour doesn't always work.
Dr Mahon, an experienced general practitioner, views hypochondria in a somewhat different way. He sees hypochondria fitting into a holistic mind, body, spirit model of human behaviour. He says a person with hypochondria requires therapy for their mind, care for their body and a lifting of their spirit. With this model the right gentle treatment and understanding can see patient improvement and recovery.
A trusting relationship
Rather than sending patients away Dr Mahon encourages them to come back. When patients are turned away by a doctor they may end up visiting many doctors and having unnecessary tests and procedures. This can lead to a negative spiral that is ineffective in treating the condition. Dr Mahon wants patients with hypochondria to return to the same doctor to develop a trusting and secure relationship.
Dr Mahon has seen many cases of hypochondria over the years. Patients' biggest fear is cancer. Because of the high statistics of getting breast cancer, a few aches and pains can make the patient believe they have breast cancer. It's also very common for patients with mild stomach cramps and irritable bowel symptoms to fear they have bowel cancer.
Skin complaints are another popular fear. Some patients see minor marks and eruptions of the skin as skin cancer or even AIDS. Harmless palpitations may be seen as heart attacks. Or slight stomach cramps as liver or kidney failure. They may fear a migraine is a brain tumour.
In older people in particular, little memory slips may be seen as Alzheimer's disease or dementia and a few bodily shakes as Parkinson's disease.
The internet and hypochondria
The internet is a great thing but can be risky when people attempt to self-diagnosis or panic over the medical information they read. Dr Mahon sees many people with hypochondria becoming obsessed with their bodies over the internet. They seek out information on the internet and chat to many unqualified people online including other people with hypochondria.
Dr Mahon has faith that patients with hypochondria can be treated. Once he establishes a good secure relationship with them and the time's right, he refers appropriate patients to a psychiatrist or psychologist for the most helpful cognitive or behavioural therapy.
Dr Mahon proves that a good relationship between the person suffering from hypochondria and their general practitioner is essential as the first step in treating hypochondria.