The essential feature of Hypochondriasis is preoccupation with fears of having, or the idea that one has, a serious disease based on a misinterpretation of one or more bodily signs or symptoms (Criterion A). A thorough medical evaluation does not identify a general medical condition that fully accounts for the person’s concerns about disease or for the physical signs or symptoms (although a coexisting general medical condition may be present). The unwarranted fear or idea of having a disease persists despite medical reassurance (Criterion B). However, the belief is not of delusional intensity (i.e., the person can acknowledge the possibility that he or she may be exaggerating the extent of the feared disease, or that there may be no disease at all). The belief is also not restricted to a circumscribed concern about appearance, as seen in Body Dysmorphic Disorder (Criterion C).
The preoccupation with bodily symptoms causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (Criterion D) and lasts for at least 6 months (Criterion E). The preoccupation is not better accounted for by Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder, a Major Depressive Episode, Separation Anxiety, or another Somatoform Disorder (Criterion F).
The preoccupation in Hypochondriasis may be with bodily functions (e.g., heartbeat, sweating, or peristalsis); with minor physical abnormalities (e.g., a small sore or an occasional cough); or with vague and ambiguous physical sensations (e.g., “tired heart,” “aching veins”). The person attributes these symptoms or signs to the suspected disease and is very concerned with their meaning, authenticity, and etiology. The concerns may involve several body systems, at different times or simultaneously. Alternatively, there may be preoccupation with a specific organ or a single disease (e.g., fear of having cardiac disease). Repeated physical examinations, diagnostic tests, and reassurance from the physician do little to allay the concern about bodily disease or affliction. For example, an individual preoccupied with having cardiac disease will not be reassured by the repeated lack of findings on physical examination, ECG, or even cardiac angiography. Individuals with Hypochondriasis may become alarmed by reading or hearing about disease, knowing someone who becomes sick, or from observations, sensations, or occurrences within their own bodies. Concern about the feared illness often becomes a central feature of the individual’s self-image, a topic of social discourse, and a response to life stresses.