What is it?
What to look for
Psychotherapeutic: Therapists frequently employ cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help children identify the thoughts that fuel their anxiety reactions, with the goal of stopping behaviors that worsen their fear. Through CBT kids with hypochondriasis can learn to accept that their thoughts are just thoughts, and not proof of any physical illness.
After a child has some success with CBT, she may undergo exposure and response prevention therapy, which exposes kids to feared thoughts and situations in a therapeutic setting, to gradually diminish their power and train the child not to react. For example, a boy who frequently monitors his vital statistics might be asked to refrain from checking his pulse for a set period of time. A child afraid of going to the doctor might be helped to call the doctor’s office and make an appointment. Similarly, parents can be trained to be less reactive through exposure therapy. The therapist can also help families establish guidelines about when to call the pediatrician.
Pharmacological: Antidepressant medications such as SSRIs are sometimes prescribed to help relieve symptoms of anxiety.
Frequently asked questions
The doctor will check your child’s symptoms and establish whether she is physically ill or not. Physical exams and appropriate laboratory work are always the first step in any hypochondriasis evaluation.
What happens when my child with hypochondriasis actually becomes sick?
It’s important not to skip routine checkups or begin ignoring your child’s symptoms. Focus on finding a good family doctor who is supportive of your child and understands her condition. Work with your doctor and develop a plan to monitor your child’s medical condition while behavioral therapy helps your child learn ways to recognize things that trigger anxiety and to avoid responding compulsively.
Does medication help?
Antidepressant medications such as SSRIs may be helpful in treating anxiety symptoms that affect children with hypochondriasis. However, if your child experiences any side effects from the medication, she could mistake the side effects as indicators of an illness, exacerbating her anxiety.