Covid-19, a nightmare for hypochondriacs


Chest scan of a patient with Covid 19 at Larrey hospital in Toulouse, 28 September 2020. – Tristan Reynaud / Sipa

  • The psychiatrist of the University Hospital of Toulouse, Barbara Combes, discusses the case of hypochondriacs in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Between its multiple symptoms and contagious nature, the coronavirus puts a strain on people with this condition.

With its multiple and highly variable symptoms depending on the patient, from fever to stomach pain, cough and loss of taste and smell, Covid-19 seems like a nightmare for hypochondriacs. “Among the people concerned, we are truly in a position to increase the fear of being sick, agrees Barbara Combes, psychiatrist at the University Hospital of Toulouse. Especially since we are talking about a contagious disease … “

Before we go any further, we must already agree on the term hypochondria. Because everyone can tend to overemphasize pain which is ultimately benign. “We don’t calculate in grams per liter of hypochondria, like diabetes or cholesterol, explains Dr. Combes. It is the behavior that will count. It becomes pathological when it interferes with your life and that of your loved ones. “

A very dark table

The divergent opinions of infectious disease specialists on the coronavirus, sometimes hard-to-read political decisions, and general uncertainty (when will delivery end? What social and economic consequences?) All contribute to clouding the picture.

“The more vague the speech, the more general the situation – and we cannot do more because it is global – the less rational explanations there are and the more people will imagine everything and more for them. As for their relatives, details the specialist. If you then add situations of confinement … For example, with a family of four in 20 square meters, without a garden, the person will be even more connected to his situation, or to his conflicts with the other three. “

With no outdoor recreation to escape, there is still TV, or the Internet and social networks … “It’s a trap, warns the Toulouse psychiatrist. You’ll always find something that will console your obsession. For someone terrified of the idea. of taking Covid-19, the temptation to lock yourself in your house or apartment can be strong. “In some students we have noticed a sort of abandonment, with a tendency to isolate themselves in their own room.”

A unique number in Occitania

In Occitania, people with psychological difficulties can only listen to one number (05 34 39 33 47). Since the spring and the first admission, the emergency medical-psychological cells (CUMP) of the 13 departments of the region have in fact been grouped under the leadership of Barbara Combes. This fall, at the end of the phone, the issues of terrorism and school bullying have added to other concerns, necessarily including Covid.

“Many have great fears of dying, especially those who test positive,” says the regional coordinator. The night, which falls faster and faster, also feeds the “evening anxiety” which is sometimes unbearable. This discomfort can cause convulsions, which in some cases give the impression of not being able to breathe, as with the severe forms of Covid-19. “Anxiety attacks can be very severe, with a perception of death, and cause the person not to be very up to date with reality,” notes Dr. Combes.

So what to do to support a hypochondriac in this particularly anxious period? “There is only the recognition of suffering that allows us to help, accompanied by the most scientific discourse possible: to explain what is known about the disease, what is not known. Neutral listening performed by a specialist is essential to break the vicious circle and gain distance. Often two or three conversations are enough to placate. “

In the most acute forms, psychiatric monitoring may be required, accompanied by the intake of drugs. According to Barbara Combes, it is very difficult to quantify the number of hypochondriacs. But, if there is not necessarily a typical profile in terms of gender or age group, an isolated person in financial distress will be even more vulnerable than usual in this period of extreme “unsocialization”. .

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