Illness Anxiety Disorder

ILLNESS ANXIETY DISORDER

Illness anxiety disorder, also known as hypochondria or hypochondriasis, is a condition in which a person is extremely worried about having or developing a serious medical illness. Individuals with illness anxiety disorder have a high level of anxiety about health and are easily scared of having an illness. This can be triggered by certain experiences,such as through hearing about a friend or other becoming sick or reading about illnesses in the news. They are easily worried about their own health.As a result they may be preoccupied with doing health-related behaviors.

These behaviors often include: repeatedly checking their body for any sign or symptom of illness,avoiding situations that they think may cause get sick, such as going to the doctor or visiting a sick friend.

For people suffering from this disorder physical symptoms of illness are usually not present.Thus, the distress caused by this fear does not come from physical complaints. Instead, a person’s anxiety about the getting sick or experiencing a physical symptom may be so extreme that they become a part of that person’s identity. Illness tends to become a popular topic of conversation. Life stressors can also trigger a lot of anxiety about illness causing frustration within the family or other important relationships.

People with illness anxiety usually make more frequent visits to their doctor than visits to mental health settings because they truly believe they are medically ill. It is common for people with this condition to visit several doctors to evaluate whether they are physically ill.

Symptoms of illness anxiety disorder involve preoccupation with the idea that you're extremely ill, based on normal body sensations. For example a noisy stomach might lead to fears of severe stomach problems or a minor rash might create fears of skin disease. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Complete focus and preoccupation with having or getting a serious disease or health problem
  • Worry about minor symptoms or body sensations that might mean you have a very serious illness
  • Excessive worry that you will geta specific medical condition because it runs in your family
  • Repeatedly checking your body for signs of illness or disease
  • Frequently making doctors appointments to get reassurance — or alternatively avoiding a doctor for fear of being diagnosed with a serious illness
  • Frequently searching the internet for causes of symptoms or possible illnesses
  • Finding little or no reassurance from doctor visits or negative test results
  • Avoiding people, places or activities for fear of health risks
  • Constantly talking about your health and possible illnesses

The cause of illness anxiety disorder is not known. It is thought to be a chronic condition that starts in early and middle adulthood. It is possible that a history of childhood abuse or serious childhood illness may be a risk factor for developing illness anxiety disorder later in life.

The exact cause of illness anxiety disorder isn't clear, but these factors may play a role:

  • Beliefs. Difficulty with tolerating uncomfortable or unusual body sensations is a common symptom. This can lead to the belief that all body sensations are serious and create the need to search for evidence to confirm that you have a serious illness.
  • Family. Having parents who worried too much about their own health or your health can exacerbate these symptoms
  • Past experience. The experience of a serious illness in childhood, can prime people to fear other physical symptoms that may occur later in life.

Males and females experience illness anxiety disorder with the same frequency. People who suffer from this disorder are about 2-10 percent of the general population.

Illness anxiety disorder may be associated with:

  • Relationship or family problems because a lot of worrying can frustrate others
  • Work-related performance problems or excessive days missed of work
  • Problems functioning in daily life, possibly even resulting in disability
  • Financial problems that are created by too many health care visits and medical bills
  • Having another mental health disorder, such as anxiety disorders, depression or a personality disorder

Treatment

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) — can be an effective treatment for Illness Anxiety Disorder. CBT teaches skills to manage these issues and to find different ways to cope with worries other than excessive medical visits and testing.

CBT can help:

  • Identify fears and beliefs about having a serious medical disease
  • Learn different ways to view body sensations by working to change unhelpful thoughts
  • Change the response to body sensations and symptoms
  • Reduce behaviors of frequent body checking for signs of illness and repeatedly seeking reassurance
  • Learn skills to cope with and tolerate anxiety and stress
  • Improve daily functioning at home, at work, in relationships and in social situations
  • Become more aware of how worries affect your feelings and behavior
  • Address other mental health disorders, such as depression

Click here for more info on the Cleveland Clinic's website.