Sunday, February 18, 2018

Part 1 - Hypochondria or imagined illness: Are you a hypochondriac?

Dr Abe V Rotor 

Chances are,  you may be suffering of hypochondriasis, a condition you are unduly alarmed about any physical or psychological symptoms you detect, no matter how minor the symptom may be. You are convinced that you have, or are about to be diagnosed with, as serious illness.

I have a friend of my age, built and lineage diagnosed of cancer.  Suddenly I felt my breathing difficult. It took months after his funeral that I was not suffering of the same disease.  But what an anxiety I underwent! 

In another incident a religious sister, an aunt of mine, called on the phone, "Abe I am here in the hospital." She had pneumonia. "Will you play the violin for me?" On the phone I played On Wings of Song by  Mendelssohn. My wife held the phone close. "I'm going to sleep now." Auntie Madre never woke up.

Such an experience leaves behind anxiety you think you are vulnerable to a simple cold becoming deadly pneumonia. To date, two decades after, a lingering cough could bring back the residue of that fear.  

So I developed the habit to go to the library for health references, or bought books about the subject.  Beginning in my sixties, I began using the Internet for self diagnosis and treatment. 

I have a mole becoming bigger in area, though not raised, I looked for signs of skin cancer.  Heartburn and early symptoms of heart attack have similarities. Angina! I panic. Blood rushes and elevates blood pressure.  I must go to the hospital. Nearing a hospital all signs and symptoms suddenly disappear. "You are tired." The doctor would say and gives you tranquilizer. Nurses and attendants look at each other. 

Now hear this.  A fellow journalist and I drove through heavily traffic in downtown Manila and finally reached the editorial desk beating the deadline for submission of articles. Whew! It was summer noontime. We took a quick lunch.  All of a sudden I had palpitation.  I had my BP taken in a nearby clinic. 180 over 100!  We rushed to an emergency hospital. The doctor asked what I ate. Yes, Vetsin or MSG in noodles, I recalled.  I was thinking of a good friend who died of vetsin overdose right in his parked car.  The doctor gave me anti-histamine shot and assured my condition is not anaphylaxis or fatal allergy.

Fill in my shoes.  What comes to mind when dining in a Chinese restaurant, in adding magic cubes in your cooking? On discovering you have taken canned goods beyond expiry date?  On getting intoxicated with attendant symptoms you think you are going to die?  What if you suddenly feel dizzy and you are alone in the house.  

Hypochondriacs are self made. Their anxieties are persistent, in fact commutative. Particularly in our present post modern age with computers and other handy gadgets available at fingertips for consultation. Too much knowledge is even worse than limited knowledge as we imagine ourselves victims caught in the middle of a pool and are going to drown.

"A little learning is a dangerous thing," says the poet Alexander Pope in his Essay on Criticism. But knowledge is also dangerous when we have knowledge far beyond our need and station in life, say another critic. "This can make for great unhappiness. In our day and age we tend to evaluate things in terms of the pleasure we receive from it. And idle curiosity can be followed to just as destructive effect as an unregulated appetite for food."

Yes, we equate our feelings with comfort, ease, pleasure and even idleness, these we mistake as the ingredients of The Good Life.  Hypochondriacs are very sensitive people with Narcissistic syndrome. Truly, many things we relate our thoughts and feelings as ailments and diseases are false alarms to the extent that we annoy doctors who would rather treat real patients. We waste their time and energy, as such deprive many patients of treatment.  

Hypochondriacs don't harm just themselves, they clog the whole healthcare system, says Time ( How to Heal a Hypochondriac by MD Lemonick).  Although they account for only about 6 percent of the patients who visit doctors every year, they tend to burden their physicians with frequent visits  that take up inordinate amounts of time. According to one estimate  hypochondria racks up some 20 billion dollars a year in wasted medical resources in the US alone. And the problem is escalating with the proliferation of medical information and the Internet worldwide on one hand, and the increasing tension and stress in daily living, often leading to depression. Depression is the advance state of anxiety that inevitably needs medical treatment. At this point we no longer treat hypochondria as an ordinary problem - it is grave medical condition with deep social implication. ~

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