Medical students’ disease (don’t get confused with student syndrome) also known as hypochondria of medical students or medical student syndrome or medical student disorder, is a condition frequently reported in medical students, who perceive themselves or others to be experiencing the symptoms of the disease or diseases they are studying.
What is hypochondria?
Hypochondria is a belief of having signs of a serious illness, even when there is no medical proof to support the presence of an illness.
What causes hypochondria?
Exact cause of hypochondria is not known. But the following factors may be responsible:
A history of physical or sexual abuse
A poor ability to express emotions
A parent or close relative with the disorder
An inherited susceptibility for the disorder
How is hypochondria diagnosed?
Diagnosing hypochondria can be very difficult because people with the disorder are convinced their symptoms are caused by a medical illness.
When symptoms appear, the doctor will begin his or her evaluation with a complete medical history and physical examination. If the doctor finds no physical reason for the symptoms, he or she might refer the person to a psychiatrist or psychologist, health care professionals who are specially trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses. The psychiatrist or psychologist makes a diagnosis based on his or her assessment of the person’s attitude and behavior, and the fact that physical illness has been ruled out as the cause of the symptoms. The psychiatrist or psychologist might administer a personality assessment to confirm the diagnosis of hypochondria.
How is hypochondria treated?
A main goal of treatment is to help patients live and function as normally as possible, even if they continue to have symptoms. Treatment also aims to alter the thinking and behavior that leads to the symptoms.
Treatment for hypochondria most often includes a combination of the following:
Supportive care — In most cases, the best course of action is for the person to stay in regular contact with a trusted health care provider. Within this doctor-patient relationship, the doctor can monitor the symptoms and stay alert to any changes that might signal a real medical illness. The doctor’s main approach is likely to focus on reassuring and supporting the person, and preventing unnecessary tests and treatments. It might be necessary, however, to treat some of the symptoms, such as severe pain.
Medicines — Antidepressant or anti-anxiety drugs are sometimes used if a person with hypochondria also has a mood disorder or anxiety disorder.
Psychotherapy — Psychotherapy can be helpful in changing the thinking and behavior that contribute to the symptoms. Therapy also can help the person learn better ways to deal with stress, and improve his or her social and work functioning. Unfortunately, most people with hypochondria deny there are any mental or emotional problems, making them fairly resistant to psychotherapy.