Although Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Illness Anxiety Disorder (hypochondria) are different disorders, they both can involve a person worrying excessively about their health. This can make the disorders seem similar, and although may have overlapping symptoms, there are quite a few differences between OCD and Hypochondria. Both OCD and hypochondria can involve anxiety about about illness, but in order to get the correct treatment, it’s important to differentiate between the two mental health issues.
“Hypochondria and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can overlap in many ways, which may make the diagnoses difficult to tease apart even for a seasoned mental health professional,” Dr. Lindsay Henderson, PsyD, a psychologist who treats patients virtually via telehealth app, LiveHealth Online, tells Bustle “To an observer, both involve what seem to be an abundance of seemingly improbable concerns about one’s physical health.”
OCD involves a cycle of obsessions (or intrusive and uncomfortable thoughts) that the individual seeks to relieve by engaging in some sort of compulsion — health worries are just one type of obsession someone with OCD may have, says Henderson. Hypochondria, on the other hand, involves an excessive fear of having a serious illness.
Although both conditions can cause great distress and can impact someone’s ability to function and maintain healthy relationships, there are key differences between the two. Here are six unexpected differences between OCD and hypochondria, according to experts.
1Those With OCD Tend To Have Greater Insights Into Their Thoughts Behaviors
“A person with OCD tends to have greater insight into their thoughts and behaviors as being problematic than someone with hypochondria has,” says Dr. Henderson. Those with hypochondria often do not have this insight and hold on very strongly to the belief that their medical issues are not psychological in nature at all.
2In OCD, There May Not Actually Be Symptoms Present
With hypochondriacs, the presence of actual symptoms is what triggers a fear of a greater health issue. This leads to excessive worry about these physical symptoms, says licensed psychologist Laura Chackes, Psy.D. However, in OCD, there may or may not be actual physical symptoms present.
3OCD Fears Are More Future-Oriented
“In OCD the fears related to illness are typically future-oriented, such as the fear that touching something contaminated will make the person or others sick,” says Dr. Dr. Chackes. On the flip side, people with hypochondria tend to focus on already having an illness.
4Those With Hypochondria Don’t Often Engage In Behaviors To Alleviate Their Anxieties
“In OCD, there are always repetitive behaviors such as hand-washing, repeatedly asking others about symptoms, searching online for answers, and/or mental compulsions like reassuring themselves or trying to figure out whether they’re sick or not,” says Dr. Chackes. “In [hypochondria,] the individual does not exhibit compulsions aimed at reducing their anxiety as occurs in OCD.”
5Someone With OCD Is More Likely To Seek Psychological Help Than Medical Assistance
Because those with OCD have more insight into their anxieties than someone with hypochondria, they tend to seek out different avenues of assistance. “Someone with OCD may be more likely to seek help from a mental health professional, whereas someone with hypochondriasis may be more likely to seek medical interventions,” says Dr. Henderson.
6Each Disorder Shows Different Brain Activity
Single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) scans show different brain activity between people with OCD and people with hypochondria. “OCD SPECT scans show a hyper-frontal pattern, which means the frontal lobes work too hard,” psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Amen tells Bustle. This area of the brain is concerned with behavior, learning, personality, and voluntary movement. But different areas of the brain are active in hypochondriacs. “Hypochondria SPECT scans show increased activity in the insular cortex, which is associated with feeling body sensations,” he says.
Although both disorders can involve worries about one’s physical health, OCD and hypochondria are separate conditions that may be managed and treated differently. If you have symptoms that fit into both categories, see a medical professional, who can help give you the proper diagnosis.