Maybe Your Medical Problem IS All in Your Head

Psychosomatic Illness, Somatoform Disorder, Hypochondria, Cyberchondria and More

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Sometimes your illness really is all in your head, but that doesn't necessarily mean you aren't really sick. Rare is the person among us who never called in sick to work despite being healthy, or who, as a youngster, pretended to be sick enough to miss school. Neither of those scenarios seemed to raise much of an eyebrow.

But there are a handful of scenarios that do raise eyebrows. Some are true illnesses, others are invented by patients to bring attention to themselves, still others may feel real to the patient, but in fact, they don't really exist.

They are often cited as reasons or labels for someone with symptoms who cannot get a true medical diagnosis.

Psychosomatic Illnesses

Psychosomatic Illnesses, also called psychophysiologic illnesses (a combination of psychology and physiology), are diagnosed for patients who have physical symptoms, but their origin seems to be psychology based. The first named psychosomatic illness was hysteria which was described in the mid-19th century. Today we know these types of problems to describe the hives that appear when we are overly stressed, or breaking out in a sweat when we are embarrassed.

Somatoform Disorders

Somatoform disorders are the more modern name for these types of ailments. They are true physical disorders, but their basis has not been identified, and the name stands in for a treatable medical diagnosis.

Recognizing the connection between the human mind and body, an interdisciplinary branch of medicine called psychosomatic medicine now exists to diagnose and treat patients who have these types of disorders.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes psychophysiologic syndromes such as neurotic, stress-related and somatoform disorders.

One form of somatoform disorder is called "conversion disorder." Following a highly stressful or traumatic event, a patient may experience physical symptoms which result from dealing with the difficult event.

An example would be when someone loses his voice following a situation when he was afraid to speak up. The emotional stress "converts" to physical symptoms.


Hypochondria describes a disorder that makes a person believe that symptoms, real or imagined, are signs of a serious illness, even when medical science can prove otherwise. A hypochondriac is preoccupied with his or her health, and will misinterpret symptoms, making them seem far worse than they really are. Illness becomes a part of the hypochondriac's identity. His personal relationships and work often suffer. It occurs in men and women equally.

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Coined in the late 1990's, the term cyberchondria refers to the use of the Internet for self-diagnosis. When the hypochondriac turns to the Internet for health information in order to support his need to prove he has a disease or condition, he is considered to be a cyberchondriac.

Whether or not you believe your medical problem is all in your head, there are some steps you can take to prove it isn't - or that it is. Here is what to do if your doctor tells you "it's all in your head."

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