Saturday, April 12, 2008

Help for Hypochondriacs!

A friend found a handy tool for us hypochondriacs on the "Real Simple" website. It's called the:

Hypochondriac's Handbook.

The "handbook," which is a 12-page web article, deals with such diverse subjects as chronic thirst (not necessarily diabetes), breast pain (not necessarily cancer) chronic headaches (not necessarily a brain tumor), and so on.

Time Magazine has also recently published articles about hypochndriacs. How to Heal a Hypochondriac talks about the tendency of medical students to become raging hypochondriacs as they gain more and more medical knowledge, truly illustrating Alexander Pope's contention that "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing."

The article goes on to talk about hypochondriacs in general:

"For doctors in training, nurses and medical journalists, hypochondria is an occupational hazard. The feeling usually passes after a while, leaving only a funny story to tell at a dinner party. But for the tens of thousands who suffer from true hypochondria, it's no joke. Hypochondriacs live in constant terror that they are dying of some awful disease, or even several awful diseases at once. Doctors can assure them that there's nothing wrong, but since the cough or the pain is real, the assurances fall on deaf ears. And because no physician or test can offer a 100% guarantee that one doesn't have cancer or multiple sclerosis or an ulcer, a hypochondriac always has fuel to feed his or her worst fears."

Sound like you? I know it sounds like me. Apparently we hypochondriacs are becoming a big wasteful clog in the medical system's pipes. And if you found this site by searching the Internet, you, like me, are part of the problem, and there is even a name for us - cyberchondriacs!

"According to one estimate, hypochondria racks up some $20 billion in wasted medical resources in the U.S. alone. And the problem may be getting worse, thanks to the proliferation of medical information on the Internet. 'They go on the Web,' says Dr. Arthur Barsky, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, 'and learn about new diseases and new presentations of old diseases that they never even knew about before.' Doctors have taken to calling this phenomenon cyberchondria.'"

Luckily for us, there are those who are taking our situation seriously.

"...a few clinicians, like Barsky and Columbia University neuropsychiatrist Dr. Brian Fallon, have begun to take the condition more seriously. 'It's not correct to say there's nothing wrong with a hypochondriac," Fallon asserts. "There is something wrong, but it's a disorder of thought, not of the body.' And, as he points out, disorders of thought are neither imaginary nor untreatable."

Dr. Fallon realized that hypochondriacs had a lot in common with those who suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD.

"'Both disorders,' he says, 'involve intrusive, worrisome thoughts, the need for reassurance and a low tolerance for uncertainty.' Psychiatrists had lately come to think that OCD could be treated with Prozac and similar drugs, and Fallon decided the medications might work for hypochondria as well. With only 57 subjects, the study was too small to be definitive, but it was certainly promising: about 75% of those who got the drug showed significant improvement."

I can vouch for the fact that since I've been on a low dose of Prozac for the past several years, I am much less apt to go into panic mode and have an anxiety attack when I notice a new symptom, nor am I as apt to immediately assume I have some new disease the second I hear about it (it usually takes at least a few days now!).

Because some of the patients who responded were actually being given placebos, Dr. Fallon concluded there may be other causes of hypochondria, such as depression (stemming from guilt or loss) or a tendency to overanalyze and overreact to every bodily sensation, which is called "somatization."

Whatever the cause, hypochondria becomes a vicious cycle, and it is hard to break. To deal with this, Barsky recommends cognitive behavior therapy.

"'Just as focusing on a pain makes it seem more significant, ignoring it can make it seem much less,' says Barsky. Patients are also instructed to counter panicky thoughts with self-reassurance, reminding themselves, for example, that stomach pain almost never means stomach cancer. Both cognitive therapy and medication seem to work, and at this point it's hard to say whether one is better than the other."

Let's hope both doctors and patients become more aware of hypochondria and try to treat it. This way it will be a win-win for both!


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Mauigirl said...

Hi Hima,
Thanks for your comments - I don't update this blog as regularly as I might as it takes a lot of work to do the research! And I have a political/personal blog that I update more frequently and a full time job! But you are right, it would be good to update it more often! I will try to do a new major post this weekend! I'll check out your blog as well. Thanks!

Mauigirl said...

Sorry, I misread it - the Rheumatoid Arthritis blog isn't yours but I will go check it out.

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Alex Neil said...

I appreciate your information on the breast pain. I wrote about this, too, recently. More specifically about the causes and cure to breast pain.

Stephanie Warner said...

This is a great write up, I was also a victim, having Alzheimer's disease for many years. My journey and diagnosis with Alzheimer's disease began when I was 58 years old. My medical condition was heart broken. The first thing I did was get myself informed. I was subjected to different medications including Donepezil, galantamine, by my doctors for treatment without the assurance of having a positive improvement. Despite my visit to several doctors my health wasn't getting better. Also I keep thinking there has to be another alternative to address this, using herbal remedy, this information reinforced my original gut feelings that I should not give up. I decided to look for another option to help my condition. I’ve made many lifelong friends when I was looking for a natural cure for my ailment. To say it gets better is an understatement. I find hope in the darkest of days when I saw a testimony of people talking about Dr. Charanjit's herbal product. I started having series of thoughts, thereafter I ordered his product and started using it, to give the Alzheimer's disease an aggressive approach, the symptoms progressively got better.
Luckily, everything seemed to be okay after a few weeks of starting the herbs, this was a pleasant surprise. I promised myself that I would stay strong. You sit living in fear of the reality what you may face, never really knowing what will happen until it does. I am indebted and decided to always share my experience.
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Carrie Kayla Reynolds said...

In my own case it was just over four years ago when my Mum began to sound different on the phone. She lived back East with my siblings and my husband and I were living on the West coast and in phone calls it became apparent that my Mum's voice no longer had the same tones of excitement and humor that she used to; and instead it was very flat. At the same time she began to tell us about a situation at work that just didn't seem possible; she was complaining that a group of fellow workers were conspiring to get her. Although Mum had much academic success as a teenager, her behavior had become increasingly odd during the past years. She quit seeing her friends and no longer seemed to care about her appearance or social pursuits. She began wearing the same clothes each day and seldom bathed. She lived with several family members but rarely spoke to any of us. Obviously this whole story seemed very unbelievable and we sensed something was wrong but had no clue as to what it could be. We recommended that my Mum quit her job and look for something else - as we began to wonder if she had a "mental breakdown" and would get better once out of the stressful job situation.
In the case of Mum, she was having persecurtory delusions, auditory hallucinations and negative symptoms that had lasted for at least Three years. All of these symptoms fit with a diagnosis of Dementia. Her story reflects a common case, in which a high-functioning young adult goes through a major decline in day-to-day skills. Although family and friends may feel this is a loss of the person they knew, the illness can be treated and a good outcome is possible as it all got better when we started using a herbal medicine for her through Aparajita.
My recommendation to people who are either wondering if they have DEmentia or wondering if a friend or loved one has Dementia should contact I think one of our key problems was that we didn't do this in the early days of my Mum's illness as we never thought of a natural alternative for her.