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Illness anxiety disorder is a health anxiety disorder. It is often chronic. A person with illness anxiety disorder is often very anxious about their health. They have fears that a real or imagined minor physical symptom is a sign of serious illness. Even when several doctors assure them otherwise, the person is convinced that they have a serious disease. Psychiatric counseling and medications can relieve some, if not all, of the anxiety and suffering. Left untreated, illness anxiety disorder can be debilitating and affect daily function.
It is often difficult to identify a specific cause for illness anxiety disorder. It may be a result of a combination of several factors.
Factors that may increase your chances of illness anxiety disorder:
Chemical imbalances and traumatic life experiences may contribute to the development of illness anxiety disorder.
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You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. If the exam shows no disease, your doctor may begin to suspect illness anxiety disorder. If further testing also fails to uncover a known medical condition, your doctor may diagnosis you with illness anxiety disorder if:
Effective treatment involves consistent, supportive care from one doctor, often along with a mental health professional. Finding a healthcare provider who is willing to listen to your concerns, provide support, and avoid needless testing is key to recovery.
You may feel overwhelmed by your symptoms. They may even seem to control your life. Schedule frequent visits, regardless of symptoms, with one doctor you can trust. Expect your doctor to:
Psychotherapy such as cognitive-behavior therapy and behavioral stress management can be effective in treating illness anxiety disorder. This involves regular counseling with a psychotherapist to recognize false beliefs, understand anxiety, and stop anxious behaviors.
Antidepressant medications (such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors) may help relieve the symptoms of illness anxiety disorder, but there is limited evidence.
There are no current guidelines to prevent illness anxiety disorder because the cause is not known.
American Counseling Association
American Psychiatric Association
Canadian Psychiatric Association
Canadian Psychological Association
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Illness anxiety disorder. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/psychiatric-disorders/somatic-symptom-and-related-disorders/illness-anxiety-disorder. Updated January 2018. Accessed January 31, 2018.
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Thomson AB, Page LA. Psychotherapies for hypochondriasis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007;(4):CD006520.
Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrian Preda, MD Last Updated: 1/31/2018