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A study suggests that fixating on illness is linked to a higher risk of mortality.

Higher risk of mortality:
In a recent study, two Swedish individuals with similar backgrounds—born in the same year and residing in the same county—were examined. Surprisingly, one of them, who was diagnosed as a hypochondriac, had a significantly higher likelihood of succumbing to a serious illness.
Swedish researchers delved into individuals with and without hypochondriasis, also known as illness anxiety disorder, a condition where individuals are excessively anxious about becoming or being sick.
Published in the JAMA Psychiatry journal this month, the study revealed that individuals diagnosed with hypochondriasis were 84 percent more likely to die from a myriad of conditions, particularly heart, blood, and lung diseases, as well as suicide, compared to those without the disorder.
“It’s a rather paradoxical finding, isn’t it?” remarked researcher David Mataix-Cols to The Washington Post.
According to previous research, individuals diagnosed with mental disorders are at a higher risk of premature death compared to those without such disorders. Mataix-Cols speculated whether this also applied to individuals with health anxiety, motivating his investigation. Despite reassurances from medical professionals, many individuals with health anxiety continue to feel distressed, and seeking information online about their symptoms can exacerbate their anxiety. Mataix-Cols, a professor of neuroscience and psychiatry at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institutet, emphasized the considerable suffering and despair experienced by individuals with health anxiety.

A study involving 4,129 individuals indicates that hypochondriasis may have associations with other factors.
About a year ago, researchers began collecting and analyzing data from Swedish census and health databases covering the years 1997 to 2020. The study involved 4,129 individuals diagnosed with hypochondriasis, comparing each participant with a control group of 10 people who did not have hypochondriasis but shared the same sex, birth year, and county of residence. The researchers also took into account marital status, level of education, and family income.
Over a span of approximately nine months, 268 individuals with hypochondriasis and 1,761 individuals without the condition passed away. On average, those with hypochondriasis passed away roughly five years earlier than those without the condition.
The researchers also found that hypochondriasis can detrimentally affect quality of life, as individuals without the condition were more likely to possess higher education levels, be married, and earn higher incomes compared to individuals with hypochondriasis.
Mataix-Cols noted that hypochondriasis is often underdiagnosed, suggesting that the mortality risks could be even greater when factoring in undiagnosed cases.
“There is a tendency to dismiss their health concerns as being imagined,” Mataix-Cols remarked.
Mataix-Cols offered a few theories about the findings. He suggested that hypochondriacs’ lives may be shorter due to chronic stress, which could also lead them to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs. Additionally, some patients might avoid seeking medical help out of fear of being diagnosed with a serious illness.
Mataix-Cols aims to gain a better understanding of hypochondriasis, including its impact on patients’ educational and career pursuits. He emphasized the need for increased attention and resources for individuals with hypochondriasis, noting that the condition can be addressed through cognitive behavioral therapy and antidepressant medication.
“Effective treatments are available,” Mataix-Cols stated, “yet many individuals do not access them.”

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