Being a Hypochondriac could help send you to an early grave, study suggests

Worrying too much about getting sick may, in fact, help send you to an early grave, new research suggests this month. The study found that people diagnosed with hypochondriasis were significantly more likely to die during the study period than those without it. An increased risk was seen in both natural and unnatural causes of death but was especially great for suicide.

Hypochondriasisformerly called hypochondria and now also known as pain anxiety disorder is defined as a persistent and unrealistic fear of serious illness. People with hypochondriasis will continue to worry about having or being sick even after receiving tests and physical exams that seem to show the absence of any disease, and this worry can impair their daily life. -daily life and interactions with others. The condition is similar to somatic symptom paineven people with the latter will experience intense anxiety about concrete physical symptoms such as pain.

Hypochondriasis is considered rare, probably affecting less than 1% of the general population, although it may be underdiagnosed. And the authors of a new study, published this month in JAMA Psychiatry, say little is known about the mortality risk associated with the condition.

To better understand this risk, the authors looked at nationwide medical record data from Sweden, which has long maintained a separate classification code for cases of diagnosed hypochondriasis. . From 1997 to 2020, the team identified more than 4,000 cases of the disorder. They then compared the health outcomes of these patients with about 40,000 control patients matched for age and other demographics.

During the study period, people with hypochondriasis were more likely to die from any cause than people without hypochondriasis (a death rate of 8.5 versus 5.5 per 1,000 person-years). The increased risk was seen in hypochondriacs even after adjusting for other variables, and was seen in many causes of death, particularly suicide. People with hypochondriasis are more than four times more likely to die from suicide, and the majority of unnatural deaths in this group are related to suicide.

The findings not only shed light on the mortality risk of hypochondriacs, but may dispel the perception that they are better at avoiding death than others as a result of seeing their doctors more often.

Superficially, one might think that because they often consult doctors, individuals with hypochondriasis may have a lower risk of death, said study author David Mataix-Cols, a researcher at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. Medpage Today. However, clinicians working with this patient group know that many individuals experience great suffering and hopelessness, which may explain the high risk of suicide that we describe in the paper.

The authors noted that most of the deaths seen in the study could be considered preventable. And there are potential treatments available for hypochondriasis, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or antidepressant medication. But doctors who encounter suspected cases of hypochondriasis must also be careful not to discourage those suffering from it and related conditions, the authors say.

Ignoring these individual somatic symptoms as speculation can have dire consequences, they wrote. More must be done to reduce stigma and improve detection, evaluation, and appropriate integrated (ie, psychiatric and somatic) care for these individuals.

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