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Illness anxiety disorder

  • Overview


    Excessive worrying about serious illness or believing minor symptoms indicate a severe illness is known as illness anxiety disorder, hypochondriasis, or health anxiety. Even after a medical examination, no serious medical condition may be found, despite the belief that physical symptoms are associated with a specific, serious illness. This anxiety can cause severe distress, disrupting daily life. Illness anxiety disorder is a long-term condition that may fluctuate in severity with age or during stress. However, psychotherapy and medication can help ease worries.

    The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) no longer recognises hypochondriasis as a separate diagnosis. Instead, individuals previously diagnosed with hypochondriasis may now be diagnosed with illness anxiety disorder, which focuses on fear and worry related to uncomfortable or unusual physical sensations that could indicate a severe medical condition. Somatic symptom disorder, a related disorder, is characterised by the focus on the disabling nature of physical symptoms such as pain or dizziness without the accompanying worry of a specific illness.

  • Symptoms


    If you have an illness anxiety disorder, you may experience symptoms such as excessive worry about being seriously ill, even when you have minor body sensations or signs like a rash. You may also have concerns about your health status, struggle to find reassurance from doctors or negative test results, and worry excessively about specific medical conditions or family history. This can cause distress in your daily life and lead to behaviours like checking your body for signs of illness, frequently making medical appointments, avoiding certain situations, and constantly discussing your health. Additionally, you may find yourself continually searching the internet for information about possible illnesses.

  • When to see a doctor


    It is crucial to seek evaluation from your primary care provider if you are experiencing symptoms that may be related to health problems. If you are suspected of having an illness anxiety disorder, your provider may refer you to a mental health professional for further assistance.

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  • Causes


    The cause of illness anxiety disorder is poorly understood, but several factors may contribute to it. Firstly, one’s beliefs may make tolerating uncertainty regarding unusual or uncomfortable body sensations challenging. This could cause individuals to misinterpret these sensations as severe symptoms, leading them to search for evidence to support their belief that they have a severe illness. Secondly, if one’s parents have been overly concerned about their or their child’s health, that person may be more likely to experience health anxiety. Finally, if an individual has had a traumatic experience with a severe illness during childhood, physical sensations may be particularly alarming to them.

  • Risk factors


    As people age, they may become more susceptible to illness anxiety disorder, which can cause significant anxiety and worry about their health. This anxiety can be particularly acute in older individuals afraid of losing their memory. Several factors increase the risk of developing this disorder, including experiencing a significant life stressor, having a history of childhood abuse, or having a parent with a severe illness. Additionally, those who tend to worry excessively or rely heavily on health-related information from the internet are also at greater risk.

  • Prevention


    There isn’t much information on preventing illness anxiety disorder, but these tips could be helpful. If you’re struggling with anxiety, it’s essential to seek guidance from a professional as soon as possible to prevent your symptoms from worsening and negatively impacting your daily life. Try to identify when you’re feeling stressed and its physical effects on your body, and try to practice relaxation techniques and stress management regularly. Consistently following your treatment plan can also help prevent symptoms from returning or worsening.

  • *Please note that the information provided in the article is for reference purposes only. It is essential to consult a doctor before applying any of the suggestions mentioned.

Content Details

Medical info from Mayo Clinic, for reference only. Visit Hoan My for better advice.

Last updated on: 14/08/2023