An abnormal preoccupation with health can be debilitating, the medical fraternity knows this too well.

Researchers and doctors have noted that when there are no physical symptoms, it doesn’t really mean that nothing is wrong with a patient. A patient suspected of a heart attack a week earlier might visit the doctor once again complaining of an acute headache signaling brain tumor. This could just be hypochondria, or commonly known as severe health anxiety.

German psychiatrists noted that these worried patients tend to interpret normal sensations to serious illnesses.

Maria Gropalis, psychologist at the Psychological Institute of the University of Mainz, says their interpretations often go wrong.

Though visits to the doctor allay their fears for some time, new symptoms bring on new fears of ill health and disease.

Thomas Gaertner, chief physician at the Schoen clinic for Psychosomatic Medicine in Bad Arolsen noted that they get addicted to such visits. Elaborating further he said, these patients often have difficulty coping with negative emotions and their fears are fallout of heavy stress. “Constant anxiety is a very oppressive condition.” he noted.

‘Doctor hopping’ is common among such patients according to Dr Ute Habel, a member of the German Association for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Neurology.As fear mounts, these patients don’t seem to get the right therapy at the right time; and will not get one unless they realize that they have such a psychological disorder that needs to be addressed.

They are treated with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), in which “cognitive restructuring” plays a major role.

Gaertner noted that “heredity is probably less of a factor in hypochondria than in other disorders,” Therefore, researchers noted that external factors including one’s traumatic experiences in the past could have a greater role in the disorder.