Am I a Hypochondriac If…? When Friends Use the ‘H’ Word

Lisa Copen,* who lives with fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis, is founder and director of, a nonprofit dedicated to practical and spiritual encouragement of persons coping with chronic illness or pain – and sponsor each September of Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week (see the 2012 articles & seminars here).

Am I a Hypochondriac If...? When Friends Use the H WordAm I a hypochondriac if…

We laugh as people say, “I think I may be a hypochondriac!” But is it really a funny matter? Not so much.

Am I a hypochondriac if…

I get up at 2:30 AM to Google a symptom I am experiencing and I start imagining all the things it could be?

It is unlikely. In today’s age of having immediate information at our fingertips, it is much easier to just get out of bed and start searching than to wait until morning when the doctor’s office is open and then we must decide whether to call him or not.

In the days of our parents raising their children, rather than looking for search engine results in the middle of the night, they sat at the kitchen table with the Dr. Spock book, attempting to figure out the cause of certain symptoms and if they should be worried or not.

If you find yourself up all hours, night over night, obsessing with health and illness information, it may be a good idea to unplug the computer.

Am I a hypochondriac if…

Every time someone tells me about their symptoms of a certain disease, I begin to believe I must have that too.

Do you really believe you have that illness, in addition to your other ones, or are you just casually laughing about having more of the same symptoms?

When we live with chronic illnesses there are hundreds of symptoms we experience that sound familiar to others and vice versa. Just because it ‘sounds’ like you have another illness, doesn’t mean you do. And just because you may joke about it doesn’t mean you actually think you have five more illnesses.

On the flip side, there are many secondary illnesses, such as fibromyalgia, Sjogren’s syndrome, or yeast overgrowth. If you occasionally believe you do have that illness, it may be worth checking into.

Am I a hypochondriac if…

Any little change in my illness convinces me I must have cancer. I can’t stop thinking that it’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ I get the big ‘C.’

While it is true that hundreds of thousands of people do get cancer, a great majority of them survive it. Whether you have a family history of it or not, go see your doctor or specialist and talk about your risk factors.

Some medications for autoimmune diseases can cause, or increase the risk of, cancer and this can play some major games with your psyche about it.

Discuss the risks and what you can do to stay on top of it.

• Are there certain tests that you should be having done?

• How can you do your best to be in control of it and catch it early if you do have it?

After that, though I know it’s hard, focus on turning those worries over to God. Each day is precious and worrying about things that do not yet exist truly are a waste of our time and the energy we do have.

Am I a hypochondriac if…

I switch from doctor to doctor, insisting they do more tests, because someone is missing something. I know I am ill!

Although those with hypochondria do make their way through many doctors, looking for proof of the invisible illness, just because you are insisting on quality medical care in coping with your chronic disease does not mean you are a hypochondriac.

We all must be our best health advocates, but this also means understanding that you will likely never find the ‘perfect doctor.’

You need to decide what is most important to you in the doctor/patient relationship and be content in not finding your soul-mate-physician, but rather one who will treat your illness to the best of his or her ability, in the style you prefer. [See Lisa’s advice on “What to Do when Doctors Make You Feel Like a Hot Potato.”]

So, What Is Hypochondria?

Hypochondria is a serious and legitimate disease. The Mayo Clinic offers a hypochondriac definition of symptoms you may experience if you suffer with this psychological condition:

• Having a long-term intense fear or anxiety about having a serious disease or health condition

• Worrying that minor symptoms or bodily sensations mean you have a serious illness

• Seeing doctors repeated times or having involved medical exams such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), echocardiograms, or exploratory surgery

• Frequently switching doctors – if one doctor tells you that you aren’t sick, you may not believe it and seek out other opinions

• Continuously talking about your symptoms or suspected diseases with family and friends

• Obsessively doing health research

• Frequently checking your body for problems, such as lumps or sores

• Frequently checking your vital signs, such as pulse or blood pressure

• Thinking you have a disease after reading or hearing about it.

According to an article at WebMD, “Internet Makes Hypochondria Worse: Cyberchondria”. . .

“The medical condition called hypochondriasis is defined as worry over an imagined illness with exaggeration of symptoms, no matter how insignificant, that lasts for at least six months and causes significant distress. It tends to develop in the 20s or 30s, and it affects men and women equally. It sometimes comes on following the illness of a friend or family member, and it can also occur as a secondary illness to depression or generalized anxiety disorder.”

Those of us who live with a chronic medical condition, and daily chronic pain, can find it hard to remember what it was like to be unaware of your body and its movements, aches, and moods. As we share about an ache with a friend, it’s easy for our friend to snap back, “I swear! You are a hypochondriac! All you ever see or talk about is pain! You think you have everything!”

That can be emotionally painful, as we don’t think we have everything, we just think we have a lot! And we do!

People who are healthy hear our stories of our chronic disease, the infections due to a lowered immune system, side effects from high blood pressure to cataracts, and the list goes on. In their mind a single person could not have all of these problems, so surely some of them must be in her head.

But we do have them. They are legitimate.

If you feel you are suffering from hypochondria, or that the fear of what you may experience with the possibility of an illness is taking over your life, talk to your doctor about it.

There are many ways to reduce the anxiety in your life, from getting involved with a church-body, increasing your circle of friends, seeing a counselor, to, at times, considering medication to decrease the anxiety in your life… If you can’t do it on your own, don’t be afraid to ask for help.


* This article, first published Feb 23, 2012 on, is reproduced with kind permission of Lisa Copen ®Rest Ministries Inc. 2012. All Rights Reserved. Lisa lives in San Diego with her husband and son. She is gradually learning how to balance motherhood, family, illness, and ministry, but she still knows it will be a lifetime lesson. You can see the books she has written, including Why Can’t I Make People Understand?, at the Rest Ministries Shop.

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2 thoughts on “Am I a Hypochondriac If…? When Friends Use the ‘H’ Word”

  1. IanH says:

    Sadly, in the case of ME and FM and MCS many doctors in their lack of knowledge, dishonesty and psychologising cause such intense fears of the illness. This leads to “hypochondiacal” behaviour as described in this article.

    The worst thing a doctor can say is “tests are normal, there is nothing to worry about”.

    ME in its various forms is much more prevalent than data suggests and for years a person suffering from early or mild ME will be treated often as a hypochondriac.

    ME/FM/MCS are dangerous diseases. Why? because there is a risk of putting any new or increased symptoms down to ME etc. and not properly checked out. Many diseases start with increased fatigue, pain, nausea and weakness. These are often ubiquitous symptoms of ME/FM/MCS. So it is hard for the patient to know what is happening within themselves. A six monthly checkup is obligatory in ME.

    Also the patient should feel free and comfortable discussing their own self-treatment ideas or protocol. We surveyed 47 people with ME or FM about supplemental self-treatments and whether they had told their doctor about them. 85% (40 people) said they had not even when they had been to an appointment after starting a supplement. The doctor is a partner in health management not the chief executive.

  2. sarleh says:

    i have had cfs and fibro since ’85. i was treated so poorly over the years that i cant bring myself to interact with my dr in any way except email. i just cant deal with the anxiety that going into a dr office creates. when i do go its only when i have a high fever, swelling, bleeding, or something that can be definitly be observed. otherwise i just wont go. not worth the aggravation.

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