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MEDICAL & HEALTH
OCD that focuses on medical and health worries is called hypochondriasis.
Hypochondriasis is an exaggerated obsessive worry about one's health (in the absence of supporting medical evidence, or out
of proportion to an actual but non-urgent health risk). People worry about cancer, HIV, AIDS, heart attacks, germs,
infectious diseases, news stories about epidemics, and food poisoning, to name just a few. They avoid people, places,
and things that they see as a health risk. They worry about themselves, loved ones, or spreading an infectious disease
to others. The sufferer might compulsively look online for medical information, visit doctors (or avoid doctors), adopt
extremely restrictive diets, use new age alternative providers, consume a long list of "cures", seek reassurance
from others. With Hypochondriasis OCD, ordinary physiological sensations can be misinterpreted as cancer, heart disease,
ulcer, and numerous other major illnesses. If you would like to be evaluated for Hypochondriasis OCD, make an appointment online now with Dr. Brodsky, or call 212-726-2390.
OCD doesn't necessarily mean the person's worry has to be false. One can have OCD even if their worry is true.
It's their reaction to even a true risk that makes it OCD. I've had clients with actual health risk factors or chronic
conditions that require some degree of vigilence. Of course we should all take reasonable precautions to avoid epidemics.
But an OCD sufferer exaggerates the urgency and degree of risk, they are more fearful about it than others with the same condition,
and will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid illness, more than even their doctors would suggest. In fact, one can
have OCD about things that are 100 percent true, such as the fact that no one lives forever, but they will be consumed with
the thought. Most of us rarely ever think about our mortality.
Most common are complaints of rapid heart beat, palpitations, stomach and abdomen
pain, irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, headaches, difficulty concentrating, decreased short term memory, sleep disturbance,
erectile dysfunction and decreased libido. Every one of these is itself a common physical symptom of anxiety, caused
by the OCD or other stressors. When it comes to health worries, it's like anything else: if you look at something long
enough you're bound to finding something wrong you didn't notice before. The person is afraid these common symptoms
are signs of brain tumor, chronic GI inflammation or infection, ulcer, which naturally increases their anxiety and the resulting
pain. The more the person tries to find a "cure," avoid certain foods, does endless internet research, and
goes "doctor shopping" for second opinions (since no one finds anything wrong with the person), the more weight
they give to ordinary fluctuations in physical sensations.
One of my former clients, Linda Maran, had severe hypochondriasis OCD about infectionist diseases
and epidemics. She wrote a book about her therapy in "Confronting the Bully of OCD." In point of fact, however, she did have a chronic medical condition that compromised her immune system and which
required certain reasonable precautions. She had to be a little more careful than an average person to stay away people
who could have a contagious illness. But her OCD prevented her from grocery shopping, being with friends, working in an office,
going on vacation, even leaving her home altogether. She was terrified of whichever epidemic was in the news that year,
such as West Nile Virus, SARS, Swine Flu, etc. It was a shame because she loved nature and owned a cabin in the mountains
which she for which she had saved. Through hard work in therapy she overcame her excessive fears of illness once and
for all. As you can see, the cover of her book features her basking in the sun on a hiking trail near her cabin and
a beautiful mountain setting.