A Condition of Doubt: The Meanings of Hypochondria

Catherine Belling*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Book/ReportBook

23 Scopus citations


Medicine relies on objective evidence to verify the absence or presence of disease, but the hypochondriac is unable to accept reassurance when no such evidence is found. By exploring the tension between these two positions, this book offers a reevaluation of medical and popular accounts of hypochondria, claiming that contemporary hypochondria should be understood less as a mental illness in particular patients than as a rational if maladaptive condition emerging from gaps between what patients expect of medicine and what doctors can achieve. We might say that, over the last half-century, patients have become postmodern while modern medicine has not. Hypochondria, as a cultural condition characterized by doubt and exacerbated by increased popular access to medical information and increased patient participation clinical decision-making, casts new light on the relationship between vulnerable embodiment and the implicit promises of science-based healthcare practices. The book's four parts examine hypochondria as a condition of biology, of medicine, of culture, and of narrative. Arguing that the hypochondria is rooted in practices of reading, the skeptical interpretation of symptoms and stories about a stubbornly opaque body, and analyzing texts ranging from medical journals and psychiatric diagnostic taxonomies through published illness narratives and horror films, this study is both an example of, and a case for, the place of serious humanities scholarship in understanding the anxious epistemologies of contemporary Western medicine and its practitioners and patients.

Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages291
ISBN (Electronic)9780199950096
ISBN (Print)9780199892365
StatePublished - Jan 24 2013


  • Anxiety
  • Evidence
  • Horror
  • Hypochondria
  • Hypochondriasis
  • Life-writing
  • Medical education
  • Medical epistemology
  • Medicine
  • Narrative
  • Postmodernism
  • Public health
  • The body
  • Uncertainty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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