Khang Vo College Writing Ms. Ingram 7, Nov 2012 In a May 2005 E.W.

Times poll, 45% of Americans aged 18 and over admitted they believed they were suffering symptoms of Swine Flu H1N1 Virus. With a total of fiftyseven confirmed cases and two deaths, hospitals were being swamped by millions each day with flu-like symptoms that mostly considered themselves the walking dead. “The strange thing is,” Dr Angstrom H. Troubador reported, “Almost all of these people are perfectly healthy, except for the psychological illness that has programmed itself into their brain through evening news.” Hospitals then began refusing admittance to any persons claiming to have Swine Flu or even just flu-like symptoms in some instances. “If they even mention the word Swine in my hospital, they’re out,” Dr. Troubador admitted. “I used to tell these people to take a break from their televisions, but that seemed to anger them more than anything.” Hospital waiting rooms nationwide were completely filled with healthy people, leaving no doubt that some of them will contract Swine Flu simply by waiting to get help they don’t need. In the long term, Dr. Troubador expected hospitals to continue closing their doors to Swine Flu patients, even if the pandemic actually began to spread. “You can’t fool us doctors like you have so easily been fooled yourselves. We won’t EVER treat anyone claiming to have H1N1 virus!” (Baur, 38) Dr. Troubador would have most likely called those patients hypochondriacs, people diagnosed with hypochondriasis. Hypochondriasis, or hypochondriasis, is the excessive

preoccupation or worry about having a serious illness or one's body. It is categorized as a somatic amplification disorder—a disorder of perception and cognition that involves a hyper-vigilance of the body's situation and a tendency to react to the initial perceptions in a negative manner that is further debilitating. Patients with hypochondriasis often are not aware that depression and anxiety produce their own physical symptoms, and mistake these symptoms for manifestations of a non-psychological disorder or disease (Baur, 15). In the story above, we can see how uneasy the relationship between doctors and patients can be when it comes to hypochondria. Both side blame each other, however, it’s this lack of faith between the hypochondriac and his or her doctor that’s at the core of each party’s frustration. Most doctors often dismiss hypochondriacs as annoying patients, but they actually underestimate what a hypochondriac has been through in term of physical and emotional pain. For doctors, especially general practitioners, hypochondria is an occupational hazard. They tend to think of hypochondriacs as nuisances — patients they are just as happy to lose. Doctors can assure them that there's nothing wrong, but since the cough or the pain is real, the assurances often fall on deaf ears. Driven by the frightening and unwavering conviction that every twinge, tingle and ache is a mortal threat, these patients can’t stop calling 911, making doctor’s appointments and demanding test upon test, drug upon drug (Baur, 28). We often see hypochondriacs providing comic relief in TV and film. But for the tens of thousands who suffer from true hypochondria, it's no joke. People who are labeled hypochondriacs often believe they live in constant terror that they are dying of some awful disease or even several awful diseases at once. 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 (Kelly, 28).One patient rails on an online message board: “The deeper we dive the more we discover about how little [doctors] actually know about medicine. They have no understanding of risk factors, or root causes, or genetics … The damn doctors are fools. All of them …” Although, these people sound angry, they do have a point in the argument: a doctor may well be wrong about a diagnosis that seems quite clear to them, and either way, isn't their charge to care for people who are suffering? (Spinelli, 28) Even for person who acknowledge their hypochondria, doctors’ liability in ignoring hypochondriacs is undeniable. They suggest that all doctors should take the condition more seriously. "It's not correct to say there's nothing wrong with a hypochondriac," Baur asserts. "There is something wrong, but it's a disorder of thought, not of the body." And, as she points out, disorders of thought are neither imaginary nor untreatable. Some hypochondriacs believe doctors routinely avoid, and even fire, hypochondriac patients from their practices. Doctors label them with derogatory names, like “crazy,” “gourd” or the more modern acronym “GOMER” (get out of my emergency room) (Baur, 109).In the other hand, some doctors rarely tell hypochondriacs the truth about their disorder. Physicians evidently do not want to embarrass or anger their patients by suggesting they might be hypochondriacs (Trotter, 30) Although some patients may be offended when being told they are hypochondriacs, hiding the truth from them is definitely not a good move. Actually, it makes it harder to build relationship between doctors and patients. Most hypochondriacs tend to distrust physicians who seem unwilling to listen, but they fail to realize how much strain and stress they unknowingly put on those physicians.

Interacting with a hypochondriac patient puts an immense strain on the doctor-patient relationship. Hypochondriacs are desperate for doctors to believe that the symptoms they’re experiencing are physically real, not psychologically motivated; they come to doctors offices desperate for validation, support and certainty. When doctors cannot give them any of those things, they refuse to believe doctors’ assessments. For doctors, this reaction violates the deep desire doctors have for patients to trust them. It also erodes doctors’ confidence (Gamel, 779). Do you feel annoyed if your client stubbornly refuse to believe your advice no matter how hard you try to convince them? As Susan Baur notes in her book on the subject: Hypochondriacs’ “consistent failure to improve makes it difficult for the doctor to feel effective, just as their lack of consideration and appreciation makes it hard for him to like them and thus feel kind and friendly. Few doctors can tolerate being cast in the dual role of nasty person and impotent healer.” (Baur, 78) The 24-hour cycle of health news and entertainment that gives superficial information about every drug, diagnosis and disease gives hypochondriacs even more fodder. “We are constantly being bombarded with messages telling us we might really be sick even though we have no symptoms,” says Catherine Belling, assistant professor of medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “We’d better have that mammogram or genetic screening or check ourselves for symptoms of a disease we read about in a drug company ad” (Gamel, 78). Doctors continue doing a disservice to those terrified patients who arrive at our offices convinced that they already know their life-threatening diagnosis.

And the problem is 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." (Kelly, 28) Google any ache or pain you might have, and you’ll find a long list of lifethreatening diagnoses. The term “cyberchondria” has been coined to describe those who spend too much time “e-searching” ailments. A Microsoft study revealed that half of the company’s employees interrupted their day at some point to search for medical information online. More troublingly, researchers found that these searches often popped up the worst possible diagnoses. There’s even an iPhone app that caters directly to the hypochondriac. (Trotter, 33) With the Internet, people are more informed patients than ever before, but that also make them more worried about their health and more confident in challenging doctor’s diagnosis. In the end, we need cooperation and sympathy from both sides- doctors and hypochondriacs- to cure the ailment. Doctors need to be trained more in patients’ psychology so that they can deal with stress hypochondriacs inadvertently put on them. Hypochondriacs and people who always look up medical knowledge on the Internet need to have some faith in their doctors, not some random information posted by random guys on random forums that can be found virtually anywhere. Only when doctor and patients have faith in each other and cooperate, instead of blaming the other party, can the problem of hypochondriasis in modern life be solved.


Baur, Susan. Hypochondria: Woeful Imaginings. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998. Print. Gamel, John. “Those Who Will Not Be Healed.” Antioch Review 64.6 (2006): 779-809. Web. 19 Sept. 2012. Kelly, Gary. “When Hype Begets Hypochondria.” Education Week 6.16 (1987): 28-28. Web. 19 Sept. 2012. Spinelli, Frank. “It Hurts When I Click Here.” Advocate 1 Mar.2009: 28-28. Web. 18 Sept. 2012. Trotter, Henry. "Cyberchondria -- A Technical Aggression against Human Health." Metalurgia 63.4 (2011): 30-33. Web. 18 Sept. 2012.