Illness anxiety disorder is a mental condition, also known as hypochondria, where you fear that you are very sick or may become sick. You are unlikely to have physical symptoms from illness anxiety disorder, though you may become alarmed that minor symptoms or normal body functions are indicative of a major disease.
You may develop illness anxiety disorder after a period of stress in your life, which may include an actual illness, or the illness or death of someone close to you. Patients with illness anxiety disorder fall on a spectrum and may experience very minor issues or may be completely unable to perform normal life tasks or work outside the home. Often, middle-aged or older adults develop illness anxiety disorder, but it can affect anyone, of any age.
While it’s not abnormal to have passing concerns about getting or being sick, people who suffer from illness anxiety disorder experience a negative impact on their lives due to their worry.
Symptoms include being constantly concerned about your own health, frequently checking your body for signs of disease, making frequent medical appointments or undergoing frequent medical tests, and constantly researching or talking about medical issues. You may also avoid going out in public so you can avoid getting a disease.
If you have illness anxiety disorder, you are unlikely to relax after receiving negative test results or being reassured by a medical professional.
This disorder can have a number of causes, and in some cases, a cause may not be found at all. For many people, an underlying mental illness is often the cause. Some of the most common of these are anxiety, personality disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder and depression. Any of these, or a combination of one or more of these, may trigger this illness. It can also develop from a belief that being sick is a deserved condition to punish the patient for some wrongdoing in the past. For some patients, their perception has been disturbed so that their normal sensations become magnified and seem to indicate illness.
Having a serious illness in childhood can create worry about developing an illness later, and this can lead to an obsession with illness. The cause can also be observing the illnesses of friends and family members and subconsciously striving to get the same attention they received. Children who have a parent who has hypochondria or who are overly protective about illnesses may develop this disorder later out of the belief that every small health situation should be worried about and analyzed. Stressful events that occurred recently can also lead to this anxiety disorder. Some people with hypochondria have a family history of the disorder.
Since illness anxiety disorder is primarily a mental condition, it is best treated through psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT can help you talk through your fears, increase your awareness of your behavior, and learn strategies for managing your issues.
You may also benefit from antidepressants or medications that help treat mood disorders. These drugs may have side effects, so it’s important to regularly review their use with your doctor.
Not much is know about how to prevent this disorder. However, it is often treated in much the same way that other mental illnesses are treated. Patients can seek out psychotherapy to talk through their concerns with a professional and learn other ways to manage their anxiety about health. They may also be prescribed anti-anxiety medication to help manage this condition. A combination of talk therapy and medication may be what is needed to manage symptoms. Be sure to follow the plan outlined by a mental health professional if you seek help with this disorder.