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April 17, 2013 at 8:00 AMComments: 1 Faves: 0

Do the Hypochondriac Twist

By Claire Franklin More Blogs by This Author

The Twist

I know a woman who has told people that she has been suffering from two different kinds of cancer over the last six months. It's not as if she's been broadcasting this information over a loud speaker, but she’s not exactly keeping it to herself either. The twist, however, is that she doesn’t have cancer at all; she only thinks she does based on perceived symptoms and self-diagnosis.

You might be asking yourself, “Why doesn’t this person see a doctor?” The answer is that she does, and quite often. In addition to regularly seeing her physician, she also makes numerous trips to the emergency room. She's also on a wide variety of pills (vitamin supplements and prescription medications) to help any number of ailments.


Although what I’m about to say is unkind, it’s also true. This woman is a hypochondriac. When her father passed away several years ago from a rare autoimmune disorder, she began telling people she too would fall victim to the same disease. I understand this is a normal reaction that stems from fear, but even now she continues to say the same thing. This is despite repeated assurances from doctors that she shows no medical signs whatsoever of the condition.

This woman is difficult, at best, to be with. A muscle ache often means she has fibromyalgia (she doesn’t); sneezes and sniffles mean she has pneumonia (I’ve yet to hear she’s been diagnosed with that); and headaches mean she has the autoimmune disorder that plagued her father. To make matters worse, she believes she’s the only person in the world to have any of these symptoms, and she subsequently demands a great deal of sympathy and consideration.


I know I sound harsh, but I’ve listened to this woman many times over the years, and I’m frankly sick of it. We have a mutual friend who coddles her like she’s a child, and she laps up the attention. She’ll text at two in the morning to ask if she should take a certain medication when an ailment keeps her awake, and she asks for numerous rides to doctors that are sometimes 45 minutes away. All without regard for the person she's imposing.

The Very Definition of Hypochondriac

Hypochondriac is defined by Mayo Clinic in this way:

“When you have hypochondria, you become obsessed with the idea that you have a serious or life-threatening disease that hasn’t been diagnosed yet. This causes significant anxiety that goes on for months or longer, even though there’s no clear medical evidence that you have a serious health problem.”

Cancer seems to be a fixation of this woman’s; she was concerned she had ovarian cancer and went so far as to tell others she didn’t know how much longer she’d be alive. The doctors squashed that notion, and now she’s onto gastrointestinal cancer. When our mutual friend humored her with a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, she took a spoonful and reportedly felt better in just minutes. To me, this is a sign that she craves attention.

Moreover, her unsubstantiated “diseases” make me wonder if and when she’s telling the truth about other things. The fact is that I can’t be close with someone like her; I understand she has a deeper problem and acknowledge hypochondria isn’t funny. I know it's a serious mental health issue, but part of me feels she should know better than to cause such an uproar, and I can’t tolerate her antics.

Healthcare Hit

A 2003 report from Time magazine indicates hypochondriacs hurt more than themselves and those around them. They also keep a strong wrap on the health-care system, scheduling recurrent appointments with doctors that absorb a practice’s time and manpower. The report stated that, according to one estimate, “hypochondria racks up some $20 billion in wasted medical resources in the U.S. alone.”

The solution, therefore, is to treat the hypochondria rather than dismiss it. I look over what I’ve written and realize what a poor light I’ve painted this woman in. She is difficult to deal with, but she’s also someone who’s slipped through the health-care industry cracks. She doesn’t need pills…she needs mental help.


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1 Comment

  • I can relate -- I knew someone once who was a hypochondriac, and would try to get attention from people (and succeed) because she thought she was having several illnesses. I believed her at first, but soon I, too, got tired of hearing it. It's one thing to feel sorry for someone who is sick, but it's another when it's to indulge them because you know it's not for real. People do not realize the impact they have on people because they are believing they have a disease they do not. It is stress that could be avoided and it makes life harder for others as well.

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