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
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:
Family history of illness anxiety disorder
Having a serious childhood illness
Psychiatric disorders such as
depression, anxiety, or personality disorder
Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse in childhood
Observing violence in childhood
Stressful experience with your own or a loved one's illness
History of personal traumatic experience
Chemical imbalances and traumatic life experiences may contribute to the development of illness anxiety disorder.
Chronic fear that minor symptoms are signs of a serious illness
Many physical complaints that often change over time
Lasts at least 6 months
Causes major distress
Interferes with social life or work
Check yourself frequently
Make many doctor visits, sometimes in the same day
Seek repeated tests for the same symptoms
Repeatedly research information about specific illnesses and their symptom
Change healthcare providers frequently
Try multiple herbal remedies or other alternative treatments
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:
Your fear of illness lasts for at least 6 months and does not improve with reassurance and negative testing
No other psychological disorder is causing your fear
Physician Relationship and Monitoring
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:
Validate your distress
Direct your attention away from symptoms and focus it on functioning in daily life
Discourage a sense of dependency and disability
Recommend psychiatric counseling and educational therapy
Psychotherapy such as
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.
Anxiety disorders. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml. Updated March 2016. Accessed January 31, 2018.
Greeven A, van Balkom AJ, Visser S, et al. Cognitive behavior therapy and paroxetine in the treatment of hypochondriasis: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Psychiatry. 2007;164(1):91-99.
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.
Last reviewed November 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Adrian Preda, MD
Last Updated: 1/31/2018
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