Illness Anxiety Disorder

Do you have an illness anxiety disorder?

If you have an illness anxiety disorder or know someone who does continue reading to better understand how to cope or assist those needing help.

Signs that you might have illness anxiety disorder

Illness anxiety disorder is a mental health condition characterized by the preoccupation with, and fear of, having, or being diagnosed with, a serious illness.

Generally speaking, diagnosis of illness anxiety disorder can be made when the unwanted thoughts and worries have been plaguing the individual for six months or more despite medical tests showing that the patient is healthy and reassurance from medical practitioners.

The first signs of illness anxiety disorder tend to appear when a person reaches early adulthood and is equally common in men as it is in women.

Symptoms include:

  • Inability to stop thinking about acquiring a serious health conditions.
  • Worrying that everyday bodily sensations such as stomach rumbles, minor rashes or minor aches and pains are signs of a serious illness.
  • Repeatedly checking your body for unusual symptoms.
  • Avoiding people or certain activities for fear of risks to health.
  • Talking often about health and illnesses to friends and family.
  • Searching the internet frequently for signs and symptoms of disease.
  • Worrying excessively about possible hereditary conditions suffered by family members.
  • Inability to find reassurance from healthy test results or from doctors that nothing is wrong.
  • Aversion to visiting medical practitioners and hospitals for fear of what might be discovered.

While patients may or may not actually have physical symptoms, their worries are more related to the implications of the symptoms than the discomfort produced by the symptoms themselves. These worries can preoccupy the lives of illness anxiety sufferers to the point where they are unable to function socially or lead a normal working life, so it is imperative that sufferers seek help.

First of all, of course, it is important that any physical health problems are ruled out before treatment for illness anxiety disorder is prescribed.

How illness anxiety disorder can disrupt everyday life

Illness anxiety disorder can affect a person’s life in many ways. Beyond hampering social lives, working lives and relationships, it can also increase a person’s general stress levels, which can actually induce physical symptoms.

Unfortunately, illness anxiety disorder often appears during times of major life stress, only adding to a person’s mental health problems.

Causes of this stress can include the threat of serious disease that turns out not to be serious, a history of abuse as a child, a serious childhood illness or having a parent with a serious illness, being of a naturally neurotic disposition, or excessive health-related internet use.

Diagnosing illness anxiety disorder

Diagnosis of illness anxiety disorder will typically involve a physical exam to rule out any genuine health conditions.

Practitioners will ask patients whether they suffer with the symptoms detailed above and will work to rule out any related conditions such as somatic symptoms disorder, panic disorder, or generalized anxiety disorder.

Treating illness anxiety disorder

Psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy) is often one of the first courses of action for someone with illness anxiety disorder.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can be one of the best forms of psychotherapy for sufferers and can be provided individually or in a group setting.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can help sufferers of illness anxiety disorder to:

  • Identify the fears and beliefs they have about serious illness and disease.
  • Learn new ways to interpret bodily sensation and work to alter unhelpful thoughts about their bodies.
  • Become more aware of how worrying can affect a person's life and behavior.
  • Learn to deal with the stress induced by illness anxiety disorder.
  • Change the way in which they respond to normal bodily sensations.
  • Address associated mental health disorders such as depression, alcoholism or addiction.
  • Improve functioning in social situations, work situations and in relationships.

As well as cognitive behavioral therapy, patients might be recommended treatments such as behavioral stress management or exposure therapy.

There are also a selection of pharmaceutical products sufferers of illness anxiety disorder might be prescribed, such as antidepressants or medications to treat mood or anxiety disorders, although patients must be informed of the side effects that these drugs might incur.

Lifestyle changes

There are some simple lifestyle changes that can also help assuage the fears of the those with illness anxiety disorder. These can include avoiding searching the internet for disease symptoms, participating in activities with friends and taking up regular exercise.

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Last Reviewed:
August 30, 2017
Last Updated:
October 05, 2017