Corporate lawyer Ratna Mahajan has just started her third job in six months. It isn't that she didn't like her previous jobs. It's just that the companies she worked for didn't appreciate it when she took virtually every second day off as she had to go for some medical examination or the other.
You could believe that those companies had been insensitive to Mahajan's plight. After all, when you need a medical check-up, you need a medical check-up.
A person's state of health is important. But, as those companies discovered, the problem with Mahajan was that she really had no problem. None of those medical examinations showed that there was anything wrong with her system.
On the other hand, Mahajan wasn't malingering. She genuinely believed there was something wrong with her That her headache was the result of a brain tumour. <b1>
That her bout of indigestion and tummy pain was the precursor of a heart attack. That her recent case of the flu indicated the possibility that she might be HIV+. No wonder she spent every second day at the doctor's.
For Mahajan, it doesn't make any difference when the reports of the medical tests she constantly takes come back clear She dismisses those reports and goes for second, third and fourth opinions.
Is there anything really wrong with her? Well, not physically anyway The problem with Mahajan is something that she'd never believe. She doesn't have a brain tumour, cardiac trouble or AIDS.
What she suffers from is hypochondria - defined as "an excessive preoccupation with one's health". For the hypochondriac, no ailment is too small to take to a doctor, and any disorder: however mild, indicates that something bigger and worse is in store.
"People with hypochondria are overwhelmingly convinced that even innocuous symptoms of physical irritation are an indication that they have a serious disease or illness," says Dr Megha Hazuria Gore, clinical psychologist, Max Hospitals, Delhi.
"Their problem is worsened by the fact that they are never reassured by doctors or medical tests showing that they're in good health. Instead, they turn to doctor after doctor and demand test after test in search of a 'proper' diagnosis. Basically they love to do what we call 'doctor shopping."
"Most hypochondriacs keep themselves updated on the latest medical knowledge and read up all the health literature they can find. They tend to read a lot about diseases and medications," says Dr Gore.
"But unlike doctors, they are unable to take an objective view and often confuse the symptoms of one disease with another. For instance, just because the body's immunity levels drop in both diseases, they will think their case of influenza is a case of AIDS."
While most people find hypochondriacs very funny - and sometimes very irritating - the fact is they do have a disease and it is actually quite a serious mental disorder.
"Sometimes it becomes so serious that it consumes the lives of those it affects, even becoming disabling," says psychologist Shakuntala Mehra. "The inability to adjust to situations and circumstances makes the person seriously maladjusted to his society".
Check your hypochondria quotient
Do you constantly worry about your health?
Do your health worries make it difficult for you to lead a normal life?
You can't concentrate on your work because of nagging health doubts?
a) Most of the time
c) Not at all
Do you run to a doctor with the mildest of problems?
c) Very often
Do you read medical journals or visit health related websites very often?
a) Almost overy day
b) Once a week
Do you worry even if you sneeze or have a minor ache or pain?
Do you change doctors if one dismisses your illness as "nothing serious"?
Have you been seriously distressed over your heartbeat, breathing, a rash, etc only to find that it was nothing significant?
When reading about a disease, does the thought that you might have some of the symptoms cross your mind? a) Yes
If most of your answers are (a), then rush to a doctor. But make sure he or she is a mental health export. You need help.