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Illness Anxiety Disorder

Do you have a constant worry that you may have an illness? Are you constantly looking up your symptoms online?

Illness Anxiety Disorder, also known as hypochondria or health anxiety, is a constant, excessive worrying that you may become or are already seriously ill. An individual may get medically tested and the exam does not reveal an illness however, the individual believed that minor symptoms or the body’s normal sensations are signs of a severe illness. Furthermore, such condition may increase with age or during times of stress.

Illness Anxiety Disorder often causes problems among your relationships, disrupts your work-related performance, has daily life disruptions, causes financial instability, and may lead or trigger other mental disorders such as Somatic Symptom Disorder, Anxiety Disorders, Depression, or Personality Disorders.

What are the symptoms of Illness Anxiety Disorder?

  • Excessive preoccupation with the idea that you might get a serious disease or health condition
  • Individual worries excessively that minor symptoms or body sensations mean that you have a serious illness
  • Individuals become easily alarmed with health status
  • Negative test results do not give them reassurance
  • Worrying excessively about having a medical condition that runs in their family
  • Hard time functioning because of the preoccupation
  • Repeatedly check their body for signs of illness
  • Frequently make medical appointments OR avoid medical appointments because of fear
  • Avoid social situations because of health risks
  • Constantly talk about their health and possible illnesses
  • Often search on the internet for illnesses and causes

What causes Illness Anxiety Disorder?

The specific cause is not known, but the following factors are believed to play a role:

  • Beliefs
    • Don’t have clear understanding of the meaning of your body sensations
    • Lack of education on illnesses
  • Family (i.e. if parents themselves worry excessively)
  • Past experience

Risk factors include:

  • Times of major stress
  • History of child abuse
  • Threat of a serious illness that ends up not being serious
  • Serious childhood or parent illness
  • Having a personality of a worrier
  • Excessive health-related internet use

How is Illness Anxiety Disorder treated?

  • Psychotherapy, specifically Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which can help you with the following:
    • Identify your fears and beliefs
    • Learn how to view your body sensations
    • Become aware of your worries
    • Changes the ways you respond to body sensations
    • Learn skills to cope with anxiety and stress
    • Improve daily functioning at home, work, school, relationships, and social situations
    • Address other mental disorders

How can I help myself cope with Illness Anxiety Disorder?

  • Seek professional help if you’re having problems with anxiety
  • Learn to recognize your body when its stressed
  • Stick to your treatment plan
  • Know your triggers
  • Work with your help provider
    • What treatment is best for you?
    • Are there any side effects?
    • How long should I engage in this treatment or take the medication?
    • What are self-care steps that I can take?
    • Are there any brochures or websites that I should be looking at?
    • How can I educate my family and/or loved ones?
  • Practice stress management and relaxation techniques
  • Get physically active
  • Participate in activities
  • Avoid alcohol & recreational drugs
  • Avoid searching the internet for possible diseases