Pushing the Limits of Differentiation: Hypochondria or OCD?


Suzan is sick. She knows she’s sick. When she goes to the doctor searching for answers, however, she is told that she is fine. Suzan doesn’t believe it though, and she takes note of the different physical sensations that feel wrong. She thinks she knows better. However, Suzan suffers from hypochondria.

Hypochondria is an anxiety disorder that revolves around one’s health. This health anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are quite similar: they share various qualities and so it is easy to confuse the two. For example, both involve obsessive behaviors. Individuals suffering from both OCD and hypochondria have similar ways of coping, which include compulsions and rituals. For example, individuals diagnosed with these anxiety disorders tend to have, “a sense of uncertainty or incompleteness that needs to be righted in some way… [resulting in] compulsive or avoidant behavior” (Weg, 2010). In addition, both disorders are rooted in an intense fear of sickness and disease. Overall, the irrationality presented in these disorders makes it difficult for the person to recognize at first, and unfortunately, this unawareness of perceptual change can affects relationships within their lives, as well as their ability to maintain a job in the workforce.

Despite their overwhelming similarities, there are a couple of distinctions between hypochondria and OCD. A subtle, but significant, “difference between health anxiety and OCD, however, is that hypochondriacs fear having a disease while people with OCD fear getting a disease” (Hochman, 2016). People with OCD would engage in more preventative behaviors, as opposed to those with hypochondria. On the other hand, “people with hypochondriasis are often preoccupied or even consumed with bodily symptoms that can be quite vague, like ‘my heart is tired,’ or very specific, such as ‘my throat is always sore.’ People with OCD are generally less preoccupied with physical sensations” (Kelly, 2017).

These differences are very important in understanding these disorders, especially regarding future treatment; however, there are a handful of faulty distinctions between the two that can be rather misleading. For example, it is noted that “people with OCD have obsessions that relate to a variety of themes, such as contamination, sexuality, religion, personal harm, or morals. In contrast, people with hypochondriasis have obsession-like concerns primarily related to their health” (Kelly). However, this statement is misleading because OCD has various subsets and although it is possible for an individual to experience multiple themes of OCD, it is not necessarily true. In other words, someone could have OCD that revolves solely around health issues. In addition, it is mentioned that “people with hypochondriasis often have difficulty accepting that their problems are anything but physical” thereby making them feel like they need only to seek medical treatment rather than psychiatric or psychological assistance. In general, people with hypochondriasis have less awareness or insight as to the irrationality of their fears than people with OCD (Kelly, 2017).

The type of help an individual pursues is dependent on him/herself because individuals that meet the diagnosis requirements for hypochondriasis rarely recognize the obsessive nature of their irrational behavior. Additionally, such individuals may fail to realize that their behaviors are rooted in deep fears that should be addressed by a counselor or psychologist. On the other hand, individuals with OCD tend to be more aware of their symptoms. However, a participant of an online forum wrote, “it took 22 years to find out that I was suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder. It was spotted by a volunteer Christian counselor. She referred me to some websites, so I looked at them with my husband. I sat there and sobbed tears of relief as I read about myself” (Pamela, 2008). This quote helps to reveal that it can also be difficult to recognize irrational behaviors in cases of OCD just as in cases of hypochondriasis. Overall, mental disorders can overlap in many ways, but understanding the distinction between these disorders can be especially helpful to individuals that are diagnosed with them.

References

Kelly, O. (n.d.). Being a Hypochondriac and Having OCD Are Not the Same Thing. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/am-i-a-hypochondriac-2510488 

Harrington, P. (2008). Obsessive compulsive disorder with associated hypochondriasis. Retrieved from https://www.bmj.com/content/336/7652/1070

Hochman, J. (n.d.). Hypochondriasis. Retrieved from http://www.ocdhope.com/hypochondriasis/

Weg, A. H. (n.d.). The Many Flavors of OCD. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/living-ocd/201107/the-many-flavors-ocd 

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