Am I a Hypochondriac? Is It Different Than Having OCD?

Differences and Similarities Between the Two

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Being a hypochondriac is often mistaken for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). However, each illness has a number of unique features, which healthcare providers can use to tell these two disorders apart. 

How Are OCD and Hypochondriasis Different?

Here are the differences between OCD and hypochondriasis:

  • Focus

The biggest difference between OCD and hypochondriasis is the focus of the person’s worry and anxiety.

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. These concerns often have to do with developing a serious medical condition, such as cancer.

  • Preoccupation

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.

  • Type of Help Sought

People with hypochondriasis often have difficulty accepting that their problems are anything but physical, and as such, seek medical rather than psychiatric or psychological help. On the other hand, people with OCD are much more likely to seek psychiatric or psychological help for the intense anxiety or distress caused by their symptoms.

  • Awareness

In general, people with hypochondriasis have less awareness or insight as to the irrationality of their fears than people with OCD.

How Are OCD and Hypochondriasis Similar?

Here are the similarities between OCD and hypochondriasis:

  • Ways of Reducing Anxiety

Just as people with OCD often use compulsions or rituals, such as counting, checking, ordering or washing, to reduce anxiety related to obsessions, people with hypochondriasis will often try to reduce anxiety about their health by taking their pulse or checking their blood pressure.

People with hypochondriasis may also frequently seek reassurance from doctors, family or friends to reduce anxiety about their health.

  • Safety Behaviors

Whether the person has OCD or hypochondriasis, safety behaviors, such as checking or seeking reassurance, are used for these reasons:

  • To prevent a feared outcome.
  • To reduce distress and anxiety. The safety behaviors feel good, and are therefore used again and again
  • To actually maintain the fear and anxiety they are supposed to prevent, because they keep the person from having new experiences that could help disprove their worries. For example, constantly running to the doctor for reassurance at the first sign of a stomachache does not allow a person with hypochondriasis to learn that dangerous symptoms often go away on their own. For someone with OCD, constantly ordering shirts in the closet to prevent the death of a loved one will never allow them to learn that their loved one will be OK despite having not performed the ritual. For this reason, psychological therapies for both OCD and hypochondriais specifically target these kinds of rituals or compulsions.
    • For both OCD and hypochondriasis, the distress and worry is often so intense that there is a severe impact on interpersonal relationships and/or performance at work.

    Can I Diagnose Myself?

    Only a qualified mental health professional should diagnose a complex illness, such as OCD or hypochondriasis. Extensive assessment is often required to arrive at the correct diagnosis. The treatment you receive is very much tied to your diagnosis, so it is essential that you are diagnosed correctly.

    If you feel that you are experiencing symptoms of either OCD or hypochondriasis, be sure to speak with your family doctor.


    Abramowitz, J.S. “Hypochondriasis: Conceptualization, treatment, and relationship to obsessive-compulsive disorder.” Annals of Clinical Psychiatry 2005 17: 211-217.

    Abramowitz, J.S. & Braddock, A.E. “Hypochondriasis: Conceptualization, treatment, and relationship to obsessive-compulsive disorder.” Psychiatric Clinics of North America 2006 29: 503-519.

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