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I have become interested lately in the use of the term “Hypochondria” and have done a bit of trawling on the Internet to find out how we use this word.    I have noticed that a lot of the Blogs on this subject are funny.  You know – you go to the doctor with suspected ( and probably absolute) cancer/heart disease/ near death and find out that it is nothing to be concerned about, and everyone has a good laugh. 

 

Movies and TV also enjoy using hypochondria for a few quick laughs.  Woody Allen has made a specialty of it, there is the resident hypochondriac on the TV sitcom “Scrubs”, and even children’s animated movies have had a go, for example “Madagascar”. 

 

Now you may be thinking that I’m being just a bit overly serious, but I notice that I don’t use the term of  hypochondriac to describe myself, and  I prefer to say that I suffer from a “Health Anxiety”.  However, if a hypochondriac is someone who has an “abnormal anxiety about one’s health” (Oxford Concise Dictionary), then that’s me!  I’m wondering that if we continue to see a hypochondriac as someone to make fun of,  then it makes it even harder for sufferers to get the help and support that we all need.

 

In the end however, whatever term you use, the most important thing as always, is to get this help and support – only then can you regain a sense of humour!

 

Recently, Josh wrote a post about self-diagnosis. I started to comment on it but soon realized that writing a follow-up post would be a better idea. Because just a couple of weeks ago I had lung cancer. Through self-diagnosis. That was fun…

This anxiety thing is a rollercoaster ride. You go up, you go down. I’ve been going up and down for the past few months (a year, actually) but to me that is progress because it used to be all downhill. And a couple of weeks ago I went down… apparently with lung cancer (and later, stomach cancer)… or anxiety.

I always seem to end up in “The Pit of Self Diagnosis”, though. I am very scared of falling ill with some fatal disease and I am definitely a hypochondriac. So when my anxiety sets in, I start selling myself this story, see?

I tell myself: “Come on! You’re rational enough, and besides, lately the anxiety has been better and you really, really, REALLY, are having authentic symptoms this time and you’ll be able to not go with the cancer thing and… It will make you feel better to see it’s just the flu or the common cold…“

And there I am. Googling again. And a few seconds later I’ve got cancer. Or a brain tumor. Or anything that is fatal – the faster it kills, the more likely I am to have it. Yay! The fun never stops if you ride the anxiety rollercoaster!

Of course I realized, after a few days, that I probably didn’t have lung cancer or other terminal diseases. Even though I had been messing with cigarettes again for a couple of months (which, initially triggered “the cough”, which triggered “the mucus”, which triggered the “lung cancer”).

So, I think I need to stop listening to “the story”. I have to stop believing my own BS and realize that it is anxiety – and if it is not (and I really have some awful disease) there probably isn’t much I can do about it anyway… and I should probably just see a doctor.

Living with health anxiety or hypochondriasis can be very challenging, and one of the ways we often deal with our anxiety is to self-diagnose. In most people (read: non-hypochondriacs), self-diagnosis can be a helpful tool to pin down a particularly difficult diagnosis, but for hypochondriacs, self-diagnosis always leads to disaster.

Here are a few things you should remember:

  1. Even with the wide availability of medical information on the internet, the best place to get a diagnosis is with a doctor who is trained and experienced to discover the root causes of your symptoms. Doctors have something we don’t: objectivity. When you’re a hypochondriac, you’re too involved with your diagnosis to objectively diagnose yourself.
  2. Just because your symptoms match those of a fatal or disfiguring disease doesn’t mean you have that disease. In fact, almost all human diseases — from the benign to the worst — have symptoms similar to those of the common flu or other bacterial or viral infection. There is very rarely a “perfect” symptom, one that definitively proves that you have a disease. So, in short, stop searching for the definitive symptom. You won’t find one.
  3. You will not find anything that gives you comfort. Googling your symptoms is a sure-fire way to get bad results. Just think about how search engines work and you’ll soon realize that the odds are stacked against you. A search engine is designed to return the most common references to your keywords. So why does the search “headache” often lead directly “brain tumor?” Frankly, because most people with headaches don’t waste their time developing web content about it.
  4. Almost every site you visit will mention that it might be cancer, so get it checked out. They do this not only for your own benefit, but also to cover themselves legally. If you stumbled upon a site that claimed your headaches were nothing, and it turned out to be a tumor, you might sue the owner of that site and claim that the information urged you not to get treatment. Rest assured, the odds are in your favor that your symptoms are nothing but the result of stress and anxiety. These disclaimers are not intended to be analyzed by hypochondriacs, so don’t pay any attention to them.

Remember, it’s important to stay involved in your own health care. Too many people pretend that doctors are invincible or that they don’t make mistakes, but don’t use this as an excuse to self-diagnose. If one doctor fails you, don’t go running to Google. Instead, find another doctor. Second, third, and even fourth opinions are very common in medicine.

Just to give you an example, my father has a congenital vascular defect in his leg. About fifteen years ago, he began experiencing severe pain and spent weeks unable to walk. His leg turned blue as it was starved of oxygen due to a defective valve in his hip. His first doctor recommended amputation. The second basically shrugged and didn’t know what to do. The third recommended amputation. The fourth recommended a compression boot and blood thinners. My father still has his leg. Sure, it gives him problems from time to time, but if he had listened to his first doctor, he’d now be in a wheelchair or on a prosthesis.

WrongDiagnosis.com has a great page entitled “Self Diagnosis Pitfalls.” I highly recommend you read it, especially the second entitled, “Why Doesn’t Self-Diagnosis Work?” Read it now.

And stay away from the search engine! Unless, of course, you’re trying to figure out how to install a new water garden, in which case, Google on my friend, Google on.

Here’s a story from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about a woman whose phobia of doctors and “medical settings” caused her to overlook the growth of a uterine fibroid, a “benign [tumor] composed of muscle and connective tissue that develop within or along the uterine wall.” Her tumor had grown so large that she appeared to be seven months pregnant.

Interestingly, her phobia doesn’t seem to have been directly connected with a fear of disease. Rather, it was doctors, hospitals and the like that caused her anxiety, which manifested in the form of a panic attack. Most of us deal with a fear of disease, which in turn often translates to a fear of death, and this usually have two outcomes: 1) We seek a doctor’s assistance more often in the hopes that it’ll allay our fears; or 2) We avoid doctors because the thought of discovering illness is enough to provoke anxiety.

If you fall into the first category, here’s a bit of advice: You should always see a doctor when you’re concerned about serious health problems, but once you’ve done so, you have to let it go. You can visit a doctor every week and your fears would still not be contained. Constantly seeking reassurance only encourages anxiety and allows it take root. You have to find the strength to resist the urge to run to the doctor every time you sneeze. Try to be rational about it by explaining your symptoms to an unbiased third-party.

If you’re a member of the second category, try to keep regular doctor’s appointments regardless of how you feel. This allows you to experience the doctor’s office without the fear of discovering a terrible illness. If you were to visit only when you’re experiencing high anxiety, then you’ll quickly associate the doctor with high anxiety.

"Drag your thoughts away from your troubles... by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it." -- Mark Twain

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