researchers say hypochondriacs more likely to die

Study: Hypochondriacs More Likely to Die

Good grief.

JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Psychiatry just published an article that demonstrates the stubbornness of the idea that people with symptoms, but no diagnosis are simply “Hypochondriacs”. Ignore the fact that the term “hypochondriac” isn’t even in use anymore, but I digress…

The article is titled “All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality Among Individuals With Hypochondriasis”.

Without going into the entire article, here are the takeaways, in their own words:

Question: Are individuals with hypochondriasis at increased risk
of death due to natural and unnatural causes?

Findings: In this Swedish nationwide matched-cohort study of
4,129 individuals with a diagnosis of hypochondriasis and 41, 290
demographically matched individuals without hypochondriasis,
those with hypochondriasis had an increased risk of death from
both natural and unnatural causes, particularly suicide.

Meaning: This study suggests that individuals with
hypochondriasis have an increased risk of mortality, mainly from
potentially preventable causes.

Medical and psychology researchers around the world are reading this as I type this and thinking “yup, those poor fools are worrying themselves to an early grave. They need psychological help so they can just stop being so anxious. Their worrying is causing their symptoms”.

Psychology researchers are undoubtedly latching on to this and adding it to their database of “see, I’m right” articles. Each subsequent paper they write and publish are adding “this is even more evidence we have a long way to go eliminating the stigma of mental illness” to their conclusions.

I’m not saying they’re totally wrong about reducing the stigma of mental health conditions, but I am saying their wrong if they refuse to pivot and see other perspectives about people experiencing what are considered medically unexplained symptoms.

History should be their first clue

In the 6th century BC, Pythagoras was the first known person to propose that the world was round. But there was no known way to test the theory for 200 years until the chief librarian at the Library of Alexandria in Egypt figured out how. Did that mean that Pythagoras was wrong for 200 years? Of course not. We know that humanity just hadn’t gotten there yet.

In the current day, people like to call those who don’t believe in something we think they should – “flat earthers” – meaning they are ignorant about a topic and stubbornly refuse to grow and evolve.

So why, pray tell, don’t we apply that philosophy to what we don’t yet know about symptoms that have no answers? We wouldn’t dare call a prominent researcher or physician a “flat earther” for not having an answer to something.

Throughout history how many people with undiagnosed causes for their symptoms were poo-pooed until someone identified the source? Hindsight is 20/20 for the things we know about now – we know that getting to our current knowledge was a process. Disorders and diseases were proposed, research happened, answers were found. It was a process that unfolded over centuries to get to where we are now.

The fact that there are there still so many researchers and clinicians who stubbornly cling to the idea that “if we don’t know about it, it doesn’t exist” baffles the mind.

Yes, anxiety about health can add to suffering.

I can pull up quite a few references for articles that tell us that stress management skills make living with a chronic illness a little less awful in one way or another. The benefits of learning how to reduce emotional and physical tension are well researched.

But that’s not saying that anxiety is the root cause of all the symptoms we can’t explain.

Anxiety and all its physical manifestations still don’t explain why someone’s immune system for example, decided to put a target on the body’s epithelial tissues (as in the case with Sjogren’s). We also know that increased stress can trigger a symptom flare. So, reducing emotional distress doesn’t take away the target on our tissues, but it may decrease how hard it’s being shot at.

I, for one, will continue to do all I can to lasso in that stress and anxiety to make my life better. But I refuse to take the blame anymore for the years I went through without a diagnosis, and I sure as heck won’t wag a finger at myself for potentially shortening my life.

About Risk of Death

The purpose of the study I’m bringing up is all about “hypochondriacs” being more likely to die than a comparison cohort during any given period of time. That brings me to a “well duh” moment.

Ongoing, unchecked stress is a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases. Of course. But, wouldn’t anyone with unexplained symptoms be distressed? Add to that the fact that patients with autoimmune diseases (often undiagnosed for years, if ever) live with a body that puts them at risk for worse outcomes from things like heart attack.

As I don’t spend much time delving into research about life span and autoimmune diseases like Sjogren‘s, I will refer you to read more about it on Dr. Sara Schaefer’s website,

But just know, taking care of your mental health still matters, even if it isn’t in your head.

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