Anxiety, real or imaginary symptoms, treatments … what is hypochondria?

It is a term that dates back to Antiquity. Doctors located in the hypochondrium, the region located under the ribs at the top of the abdomen, the location of all health concerns, vectors of some form of anxiety.

Today, hypochondria is moreover more qualified as “anxiety about health“, specifies doctor Antoine Pélissolo, at the microphone of Europe 1. Guest of “Without an appointment“, the doctor, head of the psychiatry service at the Henri-Mondor hospital in Créteil, returns to the symptoms of hypochondria, its forms and possible treatments.

What is hypochondria?

More considered as a disorder than as a disease, hypochondria is the conviction, more or less strong, of being sick, and this, repeatedly. But not all hypochondriacs are to the same degree. “It goes from” normal “,” widespread “, which is good to protect yourself from a certain number of things”, explains doctor Antoine Pélissolo, “and we talk about abnormal anxiety when it is repeated to the extreme , very intensely and with delusional ideas, outside of reality, about the existence of a disorder. “

If there are no precise figures on the number of people affected by this disorder in France, Doctor Pélissolo estimates the population concerned by 2 to 3%. “There is no single profile, but there is a tendency to anxiety in the person’s temperament, and a life course exposed to the disease,” he said, referring to significant events in childhood, such as the illness of a loved one. Indeed, seeing the disease in others can make hypochondriac. In these cases, explains the doctor, “we reassure by saying that there is no fatality, but it is very striking in the image, in deep fear”.

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This is also the case for diseases that are talked about a lot in the media, he adds. Regarding the coronavirus, which is currently spreading around the world, Doctor Pélissolo explains that it can be the object of concern for a person presenting a hypochondriac disorder. “The anxious, by definition, do not tolerate uncertainty and what would be at risk,” he explains. Reassuring, the latter tempers all the same: “It is not because the authorities take large measures that it is serious, they are obliged to alert: that does not mean that everyone is in danger”, he says , conceding that it is not easy to put things into perspective when one is constantly worried about one’s health.

How is this disorder manifested?

In the case of hypochondria, the tendency is to increase the number of consultations and examinations. “It’s a vicious circle, because the more we do, the more we will need to do,” warns Dr. Pélissolo. On the side of the doctors, this one adds that we should not make matters worse, and keep the right distance without changing the way of doing things on the pretext that the patient is anxious. “As soon as you put your finger in the gear, it’s over.”

However, the doctor notes the tendency of other hypochondriacs to “go ostrich”. Behavior located at another extreme and just as harmful: rather than confronting the risk, the person, obsessed with his supposed illness, will do nothing to keep his heart straight. “What is negative is not to consult wisely, end up no longer being wary of real things”.

Furthermore, if the internet has not positively contributed to the increase in the number of hypochondriacs, it has however increased the intensity of their disorder, notes Doctor Antoine Pélissolo. “We have an infinite reservoir of information, and we select the one that worries us the most,” he explains. Indeed, although initially medical information is important, there is often an amplifying effect. “The Internet is a reservoir with direct access, without explanation that allows personalization of the diagnosis”, hence the need, according to Dr. Pélissolo, to “know its limits”.

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Are the symptoms real?

“Of course,” says Doctor Antoine Pélissolo. The symptoms experienced by a hypochondriac person do exist. However, very often it is the cause of normal functional pain, but which, with stress and hyper-attention, has considerably increased. “It is not imaginary from the point of view of sensation, but we must not confuse the symptom and the sensation”, nuances the doctor who adds that the signs sent by the body can be linked to several things. To sum up: feeling a symptom does not mean that it is linked to a serious illness.

“The body is in permanent imbalance,” says Dr. Pélissolo. “He adapts to a lot of things, there are a lot of changes going on … We are not usually aware of it; when we are hypochondriac, we are hyper attentive to these benign changes.”

How to free yourself from hypochondria?

More than the placebo effect, people with a hypochondriac disorder are more sensitive to the “nocebo” effect, explains the doctor, at the microphone of Europe 1. This Latin word, meaning “I will harm”, indicates the occurrence unwanted side effects, just by expecting it. This is why “it is difficult to prescribe psychotropic drugs, because they will have lots of side effects”, adds Doctor Antoine Pélissolo who recalls that, very often, a hypochondriac person scrutinizes the instructions for each drug.

Generally, the latter recommends opting for techniques aimed at improving the level of general anxiety. Relaxation or meditation techniques to have a feeling of well being with your body, this body that hypochondriacs too often tend to fear. Exit the websites and forums, it should also remove all cyber-checks. On the other hand, “when there is a need, we will see our treating doctor, and if possible only one doctor,” says Doctor Pélissolo.

And if all that is not enough, psychologists can treat this disorder using very useful methods such as cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT, which aim to change the behavior of a person suffering from a disorder as in the case of disorders obsessive compulsive). The cognitive part, on the other hand, refers to knowledge of diseases. It is, according to Antoine Pélissolo, “to understand how his body works, to take a little distance, and not to overinterpret”.

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