Medication, Behavioral Therapy Benefit Hypochondriacs
> 2/9/2007 2:26:24 PM

For those with an irrational fear of disease and a tendency to characterize common, relatively harmless physical symptoms as serious conditions while lacking any basis in clinical fact, the most efficient solution to their problems may very well be treatment-just not the kind that they want. Far from being a medical anomaly or a rude punchline, hypochondria can be a very serious, recurrent and potentially disabling condition that can damage one's social and professional life. The annual price of unexplained and insignificant medical symptoms on the American health care system is estimated at $150 billion. But researchers have found that, over time, cognitive behavioral therapy and anitdepressants can make significant inroads toward relieving those diagnosed with the disorder.

An estimated five to six percent of general practice patients suffer from hypochondria, but many are difficult to locate because their obsession leads them to regularly alternate doctors in a search for some sort of positive diagnosis which will confirm their fears. Though the condition is psychological in origin, it can manifest itself in visible ways through headaches, insomnia, chronic fatigue and various aches and pains. Dismissing these patients is not helpful and cannot be recommended. In clinical trials, those medicated with traditional antidepressants such as Paxil and Prozac showed significant improvement over a period of several weeks while those in the placebo group exhibited no change in reported symptoms over the same period. While these reports are certainly encouraging, measuring success in the fight against such an elusive disorder is difficult. The diagnosis is very much legitimate, and the most important step in allowing those who suffer from the condition to overcome it is to sway public opinion and encourage hypochondriacs to recognize their condition and accept treatment without the fear of being insulted and marginalized.

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