Being a hypochondriac can help send you to an early grave, research suggests

Worrying too much about getting sick can actually help send you to an early grave, new research published this month suggests. The study found that people diagnosed with hypochondriasis were significantly more likely to die during the study period than those without it. The increased risk was observed for both natural and unnatural causes of death, but was particularly high for suicides.

Hypochondriumpreviously called hypochondria, and nowadays also illness anxiety disorder, is defined as a constant and unrealistic fear of serious illness. People with delusional disorder continue to worry that they will or will become ill, even after tests and physical examinations seem to indicate the absence of any illness, and this worry can seriously impair their daily lives and relationships with others. The situation is similar somatic symptom disorderalthough people with the latter experience extreme anxiety about tangible physical symptoms such as pain.

Hypochondriasis is considered rare, affecting perhaps less than 1% of the population, although it may be greatly underdiagnosed. And the authors of the new study, published This month, JAMA Psychiatry says little is known about the disease’s associated mortality risk.

To better understand this risk, the researchers looked at national patient records from Sweden, which has long maintained a separate classification code for diagnosed cases of hypochondriasis. Between 1997 and 2020, the group identified more than 4,000 cases of interference. 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 hypochondria were significantly more likely to die from any cause than people without hypochondria (death rate 8.5 vs. 5.5 per 1,000 person-years). An increased risk was observed for thought problems even after adjusting for other variables, and could be observed for several causes of death, especially suicide. People with hypochondria were more than four times more likely to die by suicide, and the majority of unnatural deaths in this group were related to suicide.

The findings not only shed light on the mortality risk of hypochondriacs, but may dispel the notion that they are better at preventing death because they visit their doctors more often.

Superficially, one might think that because they frequently consult doctors, people with hypochondria might have a lower risk of dying, said study author David Mataix-Cols, a researcher at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. Medpage today. However, clinicians working with this patient population know that many people experience significant distress and hopelessness, which may explain the increased risk of suicide we describe in the paper.

The authors point out that most of the deaths observed in the study were preventable. And there are potential treatments available for hypochondriasis, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or antidepressants. But doctors who come across suspected cases of hypochondriasis should also be careful not to stigmatize those suffering from it and related illnesses, the authors say.

Dismissing these individuals’ somatic symptoms as imaginary can have serious consequences, they wrote. More should be done to reduce stigma and improve the detection, diagnosis and appropriate integrated (i.e. psychiatric and somatic) treatment of these individuals.

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