It’s normal to be concerned if you develop unusual symptoms or don’t feel your normal self. But if you’re obsessed with the idea that you’re sick, then you may be suffering from a health anxiety disorder, such as hypochondria. This condition can make daily life a challenge, but even more so for people who are pregnant. Here’s what you need to know about navigating hypochondria in pregnancy.
What Is Hypochondria?
Hypochondria is a type of illness anxiety disorder that causes a persistent, unrealistic fear of being sick. People with this condition often confuse normal bodily functions as a sign of illness. Even after thorough medical tests prove nothing is wrong, people with hypochondria often remain convinced they’re sick in some way. This health anxiety can interfere with their everyday life and relationships.
Cleveland Clinic explains that people with hypochondria often fall into one of two categories:
- Care-seeking: These are individuals who work or spend a lot of time in a healthcare environment. They will often request medical tests and expert opinions to prove their fears.
- Care-avoidant: On the contrary, these individuals avoid medical care. They worry health professionals don’t take their concerns seriously and are distrusting and avoidant.
Symptoms of hypochondria include the following:
- Exaggerating their symptoms
- High level of anxiety over health topics
- Obsessively researching illnesses and symptoms
- Being obsessed or uneasy with bodily functions (like heart rate)
- Obsessively checking for signs of sickness (like taking your temperature)
- Avoiding places or people for fear of getting sick
- Seeking reassurance from loved ones and medical professionals about symptoms
People with hypochondria can very well be suffering from a physical health condition, but oftentimes they’ll exaggerate the symptoms and severity. Hypochondria can be a debilitating condition, but it’s one that’s extremely rare. Cleveland Clinic explains that less than 0.1% of the world’s population suffers from this anxiety condition.
Risk Factors For Hypochondria
There are a variety of factors that increase a person’s risk of suffering from an illness anxiety disorder, like hypochondria. These include:
- Extreme stress
- Trauma (like sexual assault)
- Family history of anxiety disorders
- Childhood trauma (like abuse, neglect)
- History of mental health problems (like depression, anxiety)
- Experienced an illness in childhood or within your immediate family
A professional is the only one who can diagnose an illness anxiety disorder. In the United States, physicians will refer to the criteria laid out in the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), and they may also refer the person to a different professional for further observation.
Hypochondria Is A Challenge For Pregnancy
Hypochondria is challenging for anyone diagnosed with this condition, but it can be especially difficult to manage during pregnancy. This is a time when the body is going through many new physical and emotional changes, which can be unfamiliar and frightening to someone who worries it’s a sign of illness. The ways in which pregnancy can make hypochondria more challenging include:
Welcoming a new baby is a huge expense. The average cost of an uncomplicated, vaginal birth is $ 13,024 with insurance in the United States, and this rises to $ 22,646 for c-sections. Additionally, some research has found parents in America spend anywhere between $ 20,000 to $ 50,000 on their baby’s expenses in their first year of life.
People with hypochondria are more likely to face financial difficulties. Cleveland Clinic notes that people with hypochondria are at higher risk for:
- Missing work
- Medical disability
- Medical bills and debt
Since hypochondria can be so debilitating, it can make it difficult to hold down a job. It’s common for people with health anxieties to miss work out of fear of getting sick or a need for further medical testing. They may also be incurring high bills due to various medical tests and complications they feel are necessary to determine the status of their health.
Hypochondria can be an expensive condition to have, and welcoming a new baby can exacerbate pre-existing financial problems.
Symptoms Of Pregnancy
Pregnancy comes with a host of physical changes, some of which are more common than others. But with bodily functions changing, this can trigger a hypochondriac’s anxiety. Depending on the severity of their condition, they may begin questioning if every observed change is normal.
This can greatly raise the person’s stress and anxiety levels, but prenatal stress can be harmful to your pregnancy. For instance, it can raise the risk of high blood pressure and preeclampsia, which has been linked to low birth weight and premature birth.
The physical changes continue after the baby is born, and the body begins to return to pre-pregnancy levels in postpartum. This means a hypochondriac’s stress can continue to rise after delivery, and even interfere with their ability to care for the baby.
Poor Mental Health
Any type of illness anxiety disorder is a form of mental illness, and it puts you at risk of developing other related concerns, including depression, self-harm, and suicidal idealizations. For some people, pregnancy can also be a challenging time mentally. One study found that up to 20% of women suffer from mood and anxiety disorders during pregnancy. Not all medications used to treat mental health are safe to take in pregnancy, adding another layer of complication.
It is possible that pregnancy can exacerbate pre-existing mental health problems in folks with an illness anxiety disorder, which can cause further problems during pregnancy and postpartum. Severe mental health problems can interfere with your ability to properly care for a newborn.
How To Manage Hypochondria
Treatment options are available for people with health anxiety disorders, like hypochondria. The treatment options focus on improving symptoms to improve the person’s daily life.
Psychotherapy (such as cognitive behavioral therapy) aims to teach people the skills they need to manage the disorder, Healthline explains. This is a long-term treatment option that can show major signs of improvement the longer it’s ongoing.
Some hypochondriacs can benefit from medication, like antidepressants (including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)). It can be a game of trial and error to determine what works for you, and not all medications are safe to take while pregnant.
To help manage your anxiety (especially in a moment of panic), it’s smart to have a variety of stress-relief techniques at your disposal. Stress can be detrimental to a pregnancy, so be sure to use these when expecting. This can include:
- Being active
- Improving diet
- Talking to others
- Journaling your feelings
For more information on dealing with an anxiety disorder during pregnancy, please speak to your doctor.
Sources: Cleveland Clinic, Value Penguin, New York Life, Women’s Mental Health, Healthline, Mayo Clinic,