General chatter - HOW do I help someone with hypochondria???

11-11-2008, 08:46 AM
I have a problem that has been bothering me for over a decade. My MIL and one of my SIL's are hypochondriacs. They are at the doctor's office every week it seems for this or that...and amazingly, they are not dead yet. (You would think they would be, as much as they complain about their health... :lol: )

They both have pharmacies in their purse. They are always the first to jump up to grab the Tylenol or kids Dimatapp when we are visiting and one of my kids sniff. ONCE. (And I decline the offer...)

They are on SOOOO many prescription drugs, that they are taking more to combat the SIDE EFFECTS of the ones that they are already taking.

My MIL has even had one doctor tell her that he didn't want to be her doctor anymore...because she won't listen to him/isn't satisfied when he tells her that there is NOTHING WRONG WITH HER, and that she should seek a therapist.

Both of them have been prescribed antidepressants along with their gads of drugs...and I KNOW that this is the doctor's way of trying to help their "mind" because there is nothing wrong with them, other than the fact that they THINK there is!!!!

The most recent diagnosis is fibromyalgia. They both feel like crap all day, have trouble sleeping and feeling rested, headaches, the doctor slapped that diagnosis at them. They are telling EVERYONE about it. For those of you that don't know-there is NO blood test, X-Ray, or anything else that proves that you have this disorder. Some people truly have it, but often hypochondriacs are also given this label, because the patient will keep coming in until the doctor tells them SOMETHING.

Well, the symptoms that they have been complaining of, are ALL side effects of all of the other drugs that they are taking!!!! If they quit taking a purse full of pills every day-the "symptoms" of fibromyalgia would disappear!!!!

I am just at my wit's end with these people. My SIL has a 2 year old son, and I fear for him. I am fully expecting him to be on allergy medication, carrying around an inhaler by this time next year...


11-11-2008, 08:50 AM
wow....i wouldn't even know what to tell you. They need therapy but obviously, they aren't going to listen to you if they aren't even listening to the dr. I don't have any wise advice/suggestion but just wanted to let you know sorry you are going thr this. Know it doesn't help...but i really haven't ever dealt with something like it.

11-11-2008, 09:00 AM
I'm convinced that most people need to feel special. Unfortunately, some will even use illness as a way to feel unique. DH and I call it miserable uniqueness.

I have no words of wisdom for you. Sorry Amy. Do they have other qualities that make them special?

11-11-2008, 09:26 AM
I'm convinced that most people need to feel special. Unfortunately, some will even use illness as a way to feel unique. DH and I call it miserable uniqueness.

I have no words of wisdom for you. Sorry Amy. Do they have other qualities that make them special?

Susan-I really appreciate this, considering your medical background. (My mother is a nurse. :) )

My MIL has lots of special things about her-she sews beautifully, she decorates cakes professionally on the side, she is a good cook, she has lots of things that are great about her.

On the other hand, my SIL, is an "attention whore". :lol: It's the only way I know how to describe it. Everything is a big deal. She was always the "babied" sibling...everything has always been done FOR her by everyone. My husband and the other sister had to work outside on the farm growing up-while this sister stayed inside because she had "allergies". When we were pregnant together, I had a riskier pregnancy (gestational diabetes, large baby, premature labor, bedrest during part of my first trimester) and whenever I would have something-immediately SHE would feel symptoms of it , too. The father actually said one day "Aphil's feet look swollen today...are YOURS swollen now, too?" :lol:

My MIL takes care of her kid. Her grandparents bought her car, and STILL pay her insurance, do her oil changes, etc. (BTW-she is 30 years old...) She lives with my MIL and FIL rent free. She has dropped out of college 3 times. She basically does NOTHING, but complain and lie in bed...and smoke cigarettes. She sleeps off and on about 12-14 hours a day, wakes up and smokes, and goes back to bed. She eats like crap, doesn't exercise, and wonders why she feels like crap.

I just don't know what to do. We have a family gathering on Sunday, and I KNOW all I am going to hear about is their latest diagnosis. I am just afraid that I am going to snap, and tell them that there is nothing wrong with them in front of everyone. :^:

11-11-2008, 09:28 AM
I recently got the Discovery Health channel at my house and one of my favorite shows is Mystery Diagnosis.
In alot of these cases, the person has been sick for years, some for decades, and they get the brush off from doctors and are told that it's "all in their heads".
This has shed a new light on how I feel about other people and their ailments.
Maybe there is something wrong with them, but they haven't found the right doctor yet with the right diagnosis.
I do think it's wrong for doctors to just prescribe medicine that doesn't really help, and may cause more harm than good, though.
I know you feel that there's nothing wrong with these two family members, but maybe there really is. ?????

11-11-2008, 09:29 AM
So sticking your fingers in your ears and singing "lalalalalalalala" isn't an option?

11-11-2008, 09:38 AM
On a more serious note ... can you get them doing any reading? Dr Oz? metabolic syndrome? Gillian McKeith?

11-11-2008, 09:49 AM
For years i thought my sister was a hypocondriac.. she was always 'sick'.. she complained constantly and never felt 'good'. i used to get irritated with her because i truly felt it was all in her head and she never had a 'real' diagnosis.. well, at this mo, she is in ICU.. her lungs have failed her and she is on a breathing machine of some sort. in the last 3 years she has been diagnosed with Interstitial systitis, COPD,Rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, she has had cataracts (removed now tho), and she has white lesions on her frontal lobe that havnt as yet been diagnosed.. she has had a constipation problem to the point of vomiting fecal matter and now has to take the meds they give someone before a colonoscopy once every two weeks or she backs up so bad she can start to vomit it again...
i know i feel like crap now.. for years i didnt believe anything was wrong.. neither did her drs.. they told her to go to a shrink as well...she has told me even tho she is dying (copd) and only has maybe 3 years left, that she still feels great that they finally found all the things wrong with her and proved it wasnt in her head. how frustrating those years must have been for her with family and drs not believing her... my motto now is 'i cant feel what you feel, so who am i to judge'?

11-11-2008, 10:24 AM
What you must that all of their health screenings are NORMAL...and when there actually IS something wrong, they don't WANT to do what it takes to fix the problem...they want a pill. For instance, if someone in the family has high blood pressure, there isn't any discussion on how to actually help or cure the problem-it is all about "what did they give you to take?"

When my kids simply need to blow their nose and sniff-my MIL is immediately telling me that I need to go and get them checked for allergies, and is running in the bathroom to get the Benadryl...when my child is NOT having an allergy attack.

My MIL had some back pain, and the doctor TOLD her that to fix it, that she need to A) lose 15-20 pounds and it would put less stress on her back B) that she needed to do a series of exercises to strengthen her core.

Did she do either one, or even TRY? No. She wanted pain medication instead.

My SIL lays on her behind ALL DAY. She literally does NOTHING. She has pretty much done this for the last 2 years...she won't even do her own child's laundry. She stays out half the night with her boyfriend, and then sleeps all day while everyone else takes care of her kid. Now the fibromyalgia is her "excuse" to sleep all day and not take care of her child...get the picture?? ;)

The fact is, is that if I quit exercising, and partied all night, and slept all day...I would have achy muscles and feel like crap, too.

These are the same people that try to push simple carbs and sweets on me, knowing that I am at high risk for full blown diabetes. They think I am crazy for exercising every day, and watching what I eat as much as I do. Why-when I could simply go and get diabetes meds from my doctor?


11-11-2008, 10:38 AM
My SIL has a 2 year old son, and I fear for him. I am fully expecting him to be on allergy medication, carrying around an inhaler by this time next year...

:lol: I'm sorry, but that made me chuckle. Am I a bad person? lol. :o

I have a friend like this. She to was the "babied" sibling. Youngest and only girl. She's had dr's ask her to not come back aswell. They put her on depression pills, but she didn't like they way they made her feel, so she went off them. She now self-medicates herself with 3 different sleeping pills at night, also an anti-anxiety pill... All this just to go to bed. She claims she has troubles falling asleep. Okay, maybe so, but ONE sleeping pill would be enough. Not 3 different ones AND an anti-anxiety pill. By the way these pills are all extra strength, and it says clear as day on the bottle take ONE pill 30 minutes before going to bed. ONE not FOUR. She pretty much makes herself high as a kite than falls asleep. Honestly, I think she loves the attention. She's always been an "attention whore". There is no way to help her either, unless shes willing to help herself. Which she is not yet.

P.S. I was talking to her last night on the phone, and she said "I feel weird, I'm pretty sure I have MS"
I'm like... Oh Gosh... here we go again.

11-11-2008, 11:04 AM

11-11-2008, 11:13 AM
junebug-maybe my MIL and SIL need to hang out with your mom and sis. :lol:

Your statement about your mom being disabled at 54 is almost exactly the MIL is the same age, and is currently going through the paperwork to stop working and get disability. It is such a shame...

I truly DO believe that when you think that you are sick for so many years, that you actually DO develop symptoms. But you can't get them to understand that...or do anything to counteract it.

It just scares me, all of the drugs that they take, and have taken, for years.

luvja-glad you found my comment humorous. :lol: It doesn't make you a bad person, it means you appreciate my Seinfeld like sarcasm. :rofl: We should have drinks sometime-I'd probably make some come out of your nose. :devil:

Your phone call with your friend (Here we go again...) made ME laugh! :lol: That is exactly how I feel.

When they started talking about SIL's fibromyalgia symptoms (achy muscles, being tired, sleeping all day) I am checking stuff off in my head the entire time (you take muscle relaxers, you lie in bed all day, you SMOKE, you don't exercise, you eat once a day and it's usually something crappy....)


But, if I offer to go for a walk with them or suggest exercise-then I'm crazy. When I tell them that their most recent symptom of the week is a direct side effect of the most recent drug that they got put on a few weeks ago...then I'm crazy. When I bring a HEALTHY dish to a family dinner, they don't touch it.

It just makes it tiring to be around them.

The drug commercials on tv make it worse. They see symptoms on tv, and are like "I wonder if I have that...." and then they make an appointment.


11-11-2008, 11:22 AM
I had a boyfriend who was hypochondriac. He was going to at least 3 or 4 doctors for his imaginary ailments as well as at least 3 or 4 chiropractors and of course since he was sure he would drop dead at any moment he had several life insurance policies.He was an insurance agents dream come true. He had plenty of good qualities but dealing with ailments, mostly imaginary, was too much for me and I broke off the relationship. The fact is , there is nothing we can do about it.

11-11-2008, 11:36 AM

11-11-2008, 11:44 AM
Sadly, there isn't much anyone else can do. They sound like they have probably brainwashed themselves into believing they truly are sickly. I know from my own experience that it is really easy to get sort of mentally paralyzed - and all the crappy food and unnecessary meds can really exacerbate the whole situation and make it seem to some people that they are truly powerless to do anything about it. It's going to take each of them having their own "aha" moment and deciding for themselves that they have to change their habits if they ever want to feel like they are alive.

I think the best thing for you to do is stay focused on your own positiveness. When they start to moan, you could just say out loud "gee, I'm sure glad my good nutrution choices keep me healthy and feeling good". They'll probably resent that you are focused on yourself but at least you won't be letting them pull you into their black hole.

11-11-2008, 12:27 PM
Fibromyalgia is NOT the wastecan diagnosis it once was. It is not true that if they can't find anything wrong with you, they smack on the fibro label. While there isn't a blood test, fibro has very specific symptoms besides just the muscle and joint pain - so a false fibromyalgia diagnosis isn't likely unless the doctor doesn't know what he's doing (which is possible, as hypochondriacs can doctor shop until they find someone willing to give the diagnosis they want). Also, getting SSI or SSDI is far from easy, so while a hypochondriac or liar can get on disability, tha's not extremely likely either.

Antidepressants are an appropriate treatment for fibro - but not because of mental problems. Antidepressants do not fix "mental problems," they regulate neurotransmitters, brain chemicals. So they can only treat brain chemical problems (like the ones that cause some forms of depression and the ones that cause the sleep and pain problems of fibromyalgia). Many people with fibro refuse to take antidepressants, because they believe it's admitting that they're "crazy," though they're rarely on a dose that would be affective for depression (for example I take amitryptilene before bedtime to regulate sleep - if I were depressed I would be taking a much larger dose and throughout the day, not only in the evening).

It is very common for folks with fibromyalgia to be labeled hypochondriacs by EVERYONE in the person's lives. After all, "You don't look sick." Also, fibromyalgia can be a chicken/egg situation with health concerns/hypochondriac tendencies. When you go for years without doctors or anyone else believing you, you often start trying to self-diagnose (especially in this day of the internet) and it can make a person paranoid and crazy about every little symptom. Also, after being told for years, "there's nothing that can be done," it can be extremely difficult to get out of a fatalistic mindset, a learned helplessness that makes even the smallest proactive health choice (like exercising or diet changes) seem impossible.

It would not hurt to assume the fibromyalgia is "real" because the state-of-the-art treatment for fibromyalgia is exactly what you want for them. Exercise and for some, diet are cornerstone treatments for fibromyalgia, and any doctor and the most current books on the topic would address this. Most people suffer with fibro for ten years or more before the diagnosis (not looking sick the entire time), so I would still hesitate to assume that these women are true hypochondriacs, and just not typical undiagnosed fibromites. If they have fibromyalgia, the diagnosis is often a turning point. It's very difficult to be proactive about your symptoms when doctors tell you there's nothing wrong with you - you end up becoming the hypochondriac they are accusing you of being. A support group for fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue (which may be different ends of the same disorder spectrum), and current books on the topic will address the most effective treatment (which surprisingly in the vast majority of cases is not pain meds).

Regardless of whether a real problem exists, and regardless of the cause - there's nothing that you can do about it. You can't make anyone make the choices in their life that you want them to make.

11-11-2008, 01:40 PM

I am fully aware that fibro is an actual condition. ;)

My issue, is that I don't believe that my MIL or my SIL have it. :D I believe that they are indeed have hypochondria.

You have to isn't that they have felt the symptoms of fibro for years and years, and are just being diagnosed. That isn't the case. It is the fact that if they are watching tv (and happen to be fidgeting a bit) and the drug commercial for restless leg syndrome comes on, then all of a sudden they wonder if they HAVE it.

The problem is that it is always SOMETHING. My MIL was CONVINCED that the her former doctor (the one who dismissed her as a patient) didn't know what he was talking about. She couldn't do anything because of her back pain, and he couldn't find anything physically wrong with her back. He tested for everything in the book. He wanted her to lose weight, and to do the exercises to strengthen her abs and back...and she didn't want that answer. She wanted pain killers, and a "label" to tell everyone about. This is the woman who can't get up because she threw out her back, but 2 days later, someone sees her out powerwashing her DECK.

My SIL couldn't do outdoor chores as a kid, because of her supposed allergies (and the family fell for it...) yet the outdoors didn't bother her enough to keep her from going on the family camping trips almost every month through the summer. (They have a place on the lake.)

My SIL last summer complained of hurting her neck, and talked about how she couldn't turn her head, etc. A little while later, my husband said "HEY ______" and she turned her neck right around to see what he wanted. My husband said "I thought you couldn't turn your head!"

It isn't about someone having fibro, and being undiagnosed for years. It is about their obsession with doctors, every medical/drug commercial on tv, and everyone else's medical issues as well as their own.

My other SIL just had a c-section, and MIL is freaking out because SIL is having a "pulling sensation" at the incision. This is completely NORMAL. She wants to make a medical emergency out of EVERYTHING.

My MIL and SIL have also both had carpel tunnel, or so they say, after hearing about a friend's problem with it. It's like they hear about someone with a medical problem, or hear about one on tv...and all of a sudden THEY have it, too.

Seriously...dinner conversation over there consists of hearing about everyone's personal medical history. "So-and-so had had a D&C last Thursday, can you pass the tomato sauce?" :barf:

11-11-2008, 01:47 PM

I also wanted to add that because my MIL and SIL are ALREADY on so many prescription medications, that some of the "symptoms" of fibro are actually side effects from the medications that they are already taking. If they were to stop taking many of their medications, the fibro symptoms would subside...

11-11-2008, 01:51 PM

11-11-2008, 02:06 PM

You asked for a "how do I help" answer, so I'll attempt to give you one that works for everyone, and works whether or not her symptoms are caused by mental or physical illness.

You acknowledge how hard <X> must be, and you bring large amounts of studies and advice to them about how diet/exercise/sleep/fewer medications can make them feel better.

Example: "My fibro is really acting up, I can barely get out of bed"
You: "That's so horrible, I can't imagine. I brought you X healthy meal and put it in your freezer, since I recently read an article about how those with Fibro can get symptom relief with healthy diet and exercise. I'll print it out for you - I found it fascinating. When you're feeling a little better, maybe we can go for a walk? Those with fibro tend to do better with regular physical activity. I hope you're feeling better soon!

Example: "Oh, my back hurts!"
You: Gosh, have you been to the doctor? I know how much back pain hurts (from experience, from when DH's back went out, etc). When (whoevers) back went out, doing exercises really helped get him mobile again. I'll bring you a printout of the workouts, and you can check with your doctor on whether they'd work for you! I hope you feel better soon!

Example: "I'm feeling really crappy lately!"
You: I'm sorry you're not feeling well! I recently read this really interesting article (side note: I actually did, I'll see if I can find it for you) in a magazine about how taking too many prescriptions with their individual side effects can be almost worse than the original illness. There's a specialist who evaluates prescriptions to see if they have interactions or combined toxicities...maybe you should look him up! I feel terrible knowing you feel so sick.

There are two options here, and neither one of them reflects a lack of symptoms.

Option 1 is that she has one or many medical conditions or prescription interactions that are causing her to feel unpleasant physical symptoms. In this case, saying "I'm so sorry you're feeling bad" acknowledges that she isn't feeling well and that you don't think she's nuts, which can be terrible to those experiencing scary symptoms and unable to find a cause. Providing the additional information is helpful, and if done enough, may provoke them to make lifestyle changes that will make them feel better.

Option 2 is that mental illness is causing her to feel unpleasant physical symptoms. In this case, the symptoms are still real, they just don't have a single or multiple physical underlying causes. BUT she is still feeling what she feels. By saying "I'm so sorry you're not feeling well", you prevent her from feeling like the whole world is against her. By giving her lifestyle-based support and advice, you're encouraging her to make changes that could make her symptoms go away (hypochondria is strongly linked to depression and anxiety, both of which are helped by exercise). You establish yourself as a friendly person willing to listen, which in turn makes them more likely to listen to you.

It can be horrible to have to suck it up, so to speak, and acknowledge/validate symptoms you don't believe warrant your attention. But eventually, it could make her MUCH easier for everyone to deal with (and it could make her FEEL better, too)

11-11-2008, 02:38 PM
I would like to offer some advice that I learned from from my pastor that may help you put all this into perspective.

You cannot change other people.
You can only change how you react to them.

Think about it :)

11-11-2008, 02:41 PM
I agree with Amanda. The more you deny that something is wrong, the more they will try to prove you wrong. Plus, they may also be getting some mental benefit out of no one believing them, because believing they are so misunderstood adds to their "specialness." It may seem counter-intuitive, but often agreeing de-escalates the complaining. Just respond to everything with "Oh, how awful that must be." Every time, over and over. But never ever discuss the actual symptoms, because that goes down an endless path that you cannot win.

And the other half of what she said is also true. Always calmly offer food and exercise solutions.

Hopefully they get tired of not getting what they want from you (to have the specialness of not being believed) and always getting something they don't want (solutions that involve them changing anything).

Of course, ultimately you can't change them. It's all about keeping it from twisting you up.

11-11-2008, 02:48 PM
Mandalinn said what I was trying to say much more eloquently -- it doesn't matter whether their symptoms are "real" or not, they are real to them - and the best treatment (living a healthy lifestyle) really is the same whether you are right and they don't have fibro - or whether you are wrong and they do.

I've had much of what you've said about your in-laws said about me, and so has virtually every person with fibromyalgia. There is always someone telling you that if you'd only do x, y, or z - you'd feel fine. Whether they are real fibromyalgia sufferers or true hypochondriacs, the best response really is the same - acknowledging the truth of their experience to them, and offering them resources for treatments that might be effective - recommending books, support groups, and information - and it doesn't matter if they "really" have fibro - because the advice that helps fibro, would also help if their condition is mostly psychological and a result of drug side-effects. Sleep better, exercise more, pay attention to what you eat (for most fibro sufferers sugar and other refined carbs trigger flares - that avoiding those would help almost anyone feel better - bonus), and work closely with your doctor and pharmacist regarding meds. Since the treatment is the same, what's the harm in assuming the fibro is real - but regardless, ultimately their behavior and their reality is not something you have the power to change.

11-11-2008, 03:39 PM
Well, thanks for all of the different opinions.

I guess I will just try and do what I normally do-completely ignore any conversations that turn medical. My normal way of dealing with it is to leave every time a conversation turns in that direction-I go check on the kids in the playroom, go get a water from the fridge, etc. I don't try and tell them that they aren't sick, etc. I just do my best to ignore it while I am around them...and then my husband and I just discuss it later on, when we are no longer around them.

So far on this thread, I truly believe that junebug understand what I am witnessing best-even though she deleted her posts. I still know what they said... :hug: