Signs that someone you love is a hypochondriac

While hypochondriacs are the butt of numerous jokes, there's really not much to laugh about should you be sharing your life with anyone afflicted with illness anxiety disorder, which is a how the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has reclassified this ailment (via Mayo Clinic). While there may not be any actual physical disorder underlying the symptoms sufferers may feel, the mental distress is very real — and also highly communicable. If your loved one has hypochondria, chances are you won't be feeling any too well yourself.

Hypochondriacs are up on all of the latest viruses going around, and even far more obscure conditions. Any little sniffle or sneeze or twitch or glitch is automatically assumed to be a sign they're coming down with... something... and they'll jump online and start searching for info that confirms their darkest fears. According to The San Diego Union Tribune, there's even a specific term for compulsive online symptom-checking: cyberchondria, which is defined as "obsessive health research on the Internet for information about illnesses and their symptoms."

What can you do about this, change the WiFi password? That won't work, since your hypochondriac partner can always use their phone or may even resort to books and encyclopedias — there's no shortage of ailments dating from the pre-internet era after all.

They always believe they're seriously ill

Once a hypochondriac has identified a likely fit for any of the symptoms they are feeling — or think they are feeling — they may become convinced that they do have this condition and that it is extremely serious and even potentially fatal. As Brian A. Fallon, MD, associate professor of clinical psychiatry at New York State Psychiatric Institute, told WebMD, "People with hypochondria are catastrophizers," which means they are always envisioning worst-case scenarios.

Dr. Fallon also speaks of the stress this condition puts on the hypochondriac's partner due to the sufferer's "repetitive need for reassurance," but the form this reassurance takes may vary. Some hypochondriacs are looking to be reassured that they aren't actually going to die, while others are actually looking for acknowledgment that they are in a bad way.

They may make frequent medical appointments

While some hypochondriacs fear seeking any kind of treatment, either because they are afraid they do or do not have some deadly virus, others put a great strain on their relationships — and their finances — by going from doctor to doctor. Whether they are just in search of a second, or third, or even fourth opinion, or they are actually booking unnecessary treatments, this medical mania is bound to be costly in terms of both time and money.

If your hypochondriac loved one has been to doctor after doctor with no physical ailment being diagnosed, then it may be time to insist — gently but firmly — that the next doctor they see be a mental health professional. Jill Stoddard, clinical psychologist at the Center for Stress and Anxiety Management in Mission Valley, tells The San Diego Union Tribune that you should not do so by disagreeing with their self-diagnosis outright, but instead, should suggest that they seek therapy as a means to help them cope with all of the anxiety their health issues must be causing them. This should "[d]emonstrate to them that you're on their side, and you empathize with the bad hand they've been dealt," and is a more likely way to get their cooperation — and some badly-needed help for the both of you — than accusing them outright of being a hypochondriac.