- pertaining to or suffering from hypochondria, an excessive preoccupation with and worry about one's health: The comedy is aimed at the hypochondriac demographic.
- produced by hypochondria: Hypochondriac feelings overwhelmed her.
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It wasn’t until the 19th century that hypochondriac described someone who suffered “illness without a specific cause.” So what did it originally mean?
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Origin of hypochondriac
historical usage of hypochondriac
The upper abdomen, it turns out, was thought to be the seat of melancholy at a time when the now-outdated medical theory of the four humors (blood, phlegm, yellow bile [choler], and black bile [melancholy]) was accepted as a basis for legitimate health practice. In the 17th century, hypochondriac referred to people who suffered from “depression and melancholy without cause,” though we might suppose from the name of this malady that many depressed patients complained of abdominal pains, which otherwise went undiagnosed. “Vapors,” another archaic disorder connected to the upper abdomen, was used as a euphemism for PMS in a time when such things were not discussed in polite conversation. Because doctors were male at this time, “women’s problems” were largely written off as fits of hysteria (another obsolete medical term of Greek origin, from the word for womb ).
It wasn’t until the 19th century that hypochondriac described someone who suffered “illness without a specific cause.” This sense is still widely used, though today we diagnose modern hypochondriacs by their overuse of the website WebMD.
popular references for hypochondriac
— The Hypochondriac: Molière’s last play, first performed in 1673. During the play’s fourth performance, Molière passed out on stage and died a few days later.
OTHER WORDS FROM hypochondriachy·po·chon·dri·a·cal·ly, adverb
Words nearby hypochondriac
ABOUT THIS WORD
What does hypochondriac mean?
Hypochondriac was once commonly used to refer to a person who constantly and excessively worries about their health, believing that they are or are about to become ill when there is really no reason to believe so.
However, mental health practitioners have largely stopped using the terms hypochondriac and hypochondria in favor of other terms due to such labels being seen as demeaning. People with the condition are now sometimes diagnosed with illness anxiety disorder. The chronic anxiety that the condition involves is often focused on particular ailments—such as heart or stomach pains—and may even be accompanied by physical symptoms.
It’s normal to wonder if you’re sick when you have a cough or a runny nose, but illness anxiety disorder is recognized as a mental disorder when such worrying becomes constant and excessive, especially when there are no symptoms. In these cases, the anxiety often disrupts a person’s daily life.
The words hypochondriac and hypochondria are still often used in a casual way outside of their use by medical and mental health professionals, such as in the context of a person who frequently becomes convinced that minor pains are a sign of a serious health problem. However, using the words in this way can be insensitive and offensive.
Hypochondriac can also be used as an adjective describing things that involve hypochondria, as in hypochondriac tendencies. A less common variant of the adjective is hypochondriacal. These terms are also avoided by mental health professionals and can be considered insensitive in casual use.
Example: Labeling patients as hypochondriacs only stigmatized them—it didn’t do anything to help their underlying anxiety.
Where does hypochondriac come from?
The first records of the word hypochondriac come from around the early 1600s, with hypochondria first being recorded in the mid-1500s. The terms ultimately come from the Greek hypokhondria, meaning “under the cartilage (of the upper abdomen).”
Early senses of the words hypochondria and hypochondriac were used in reference to the medieval notion that people’s personalities are based on the balance of four different types of elemental fluids in their body, called humors. An excess of one the so-called humors, black bile, was thought to cause a person to be in a state of gloominess and depression known as melancholy. This melancholy was thought to be seated in the upper abdomen. (The related term hypochondrium is still used in anatomy to refer to one of two regions in the abdomen.)
Eventually, hypochondria came to refer to a condition involving frequent complaints about stomach pains and then to the condition of believing that you have illnesses that you don’t actually have.
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What are some other forms related to hypochondriac?
- hypochondriacally (adverb)
- hypochondria (noun)
What are some synonyms for hypochondriac?
What are some words that share a root or word element with hypochondriac?
What are some words that often get used in discussing hypochondriac?
Example sentences from the Web for hypochondriac
One of the storylines of that movie has hypochondriac Woody enduring a cancer scare.Speak, Faulty Memory: Why Memoir Writing Is Harder Than You Think|Dave Bry|April 3, 2013|DAILY BEAST
We have already seen how the sphere of the hypochondriac is narrowed.Why Worry?|George Lincoln Walton, M.D.
His gloom was not that of the hypochondriac, but the legitimate gloom which has its origin in a syllogism.Desperate Remedies|Thomas Hardy
The pill eater is a hypochondriac, and very likely his doctor knows it.Think|Col. Wm. C. Hunter
But only those rich enough to be hypochondriac can afford such luxuries.Literary Tours in The Highlands and Islands of Scotland|Daniel Turner Holmes
It wanted vitality; and every person that breathed it partook of its own damp, hypochondriac, inanimate character.
British Dictionary definitions for hypochondriac
adjective Also: hypochondriacal (ˌhaɪpəkɒnˈdraɪəkəl)
Derived forms of hypochondriachypochondriacally, adverb
Medical definitions for hypochondriac
Other words from hypochondriachy′po•chon•dri′a•cal (-kŏn-drī′ə-kəl) adj.
Cultural definitions for hypochondriac
A person who constantly believes he or she is ill or about to become ill.