Kids get sick, sometimes experiencing up to 12 viruses a year. But a child that suffers from hypochondria doesn’t necessarily fall ill. They just fear that they might. Webster’s defines hypochondria as, “a person who is often or always worried about his or her own health.” In children, it can also be known as “health anxiety” or “pediatric illness anxiety disorder.” A child that’s suffering from this disorder is different than a child who occasionally fakes a tummy ache to miss school. How can you tell the difference?
Timing Is Everything
Pay attention to see if there’s a pattern to your child’s symptoms. Do they always feel sick when it’s time to go to school? Are they exhibiting “symptoms” when they’re about to enter into a new environment or take on a new task? “Look for a pattern that makes no medical sense, but makes behavioral sense,” Dr. Gerald P. Koocher, chief psychologist at the Children’s Hospital in Boston said in a recent article for the Sun Sentinel.
Does Your Child Voice Frequent Health Concerns?
Children struggling with hypochondria become hyper-focused on symptoms, even after a doctor has deemed them healthy. They may ask you to take their temperature frequently or search symptoms online. Their preoccupation with these “symptoms” can often disrupt their normal lives, causing them to miss school and skip activities.
They Fear Larger Illnesses
As kids learn about different illnesses, it’s normal for them to be a bit fearful. When kids worry their normal ailments, like a headache, could mean they have a brain tumor, it may be time to take pause. A preoccupation with serious illnesses could be indicative of a health anxiety.
What Else Is Going On?
Hypochondria is a form of anxiety. Children suffering from anxiety, OCD or depression are more likely to experience hypochondria. It’s not uncommon, too, for children whose parents suffer from hypochondria to develop it themselves.
Sometimes, children who’ve experienced a legitimate illness and are no longer sick may also become abnormally pre-occupied with their health. It’s important to be aware of any predispositions your child might have.
If you suspect your child has hypochondria, talking with your pediatrician is a good first step. Together with your physician, you can determine if visiting a mental health professional might be an option for further treatment. Like any other ailment, health anxiety is difficult for both your child and you as the parent. Take comfort in knowing there are many approaches and treatments to help kids with hypochondria.
Pediatric Illness Anxiety Disorder — Sources
Dr. Gerald P. Koocher, chief psychologist at the Children’s Hospital, Boston
The Children’s Center For Psychiatry, Psychology & Related Services