February 19, 2010

The term hypochondriasis is derived from the old medical term hypochondrium which means “below the ribs” because most people with this condition have abdominal complaints. When we think of a hypochondriac we tend to think of Woody Allen and characters he’s played that are constantly in fear of having some terrible medical illness which, of course, never really exists.

Hypochondriasis is a person’s inaccurate interpretation of real physical sensations that have no actual medical cause. The preoccupation with having a serious disease causes a lot of distress and compromises a person’s ability to function in important areas of their life. About five percent of people have this condition. It affects men and women equally and it most often develops in a person’s 20s. It often comes along with depression and/or anxiety. Despite tests a doctor may give demonstrating that the person is well physically, she or he is convinced otherwise. Over time, the person may become convinced she has developed a new disease.

There are several theories as to the cause of hypochondriasis:

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