Emotional and Mental Health

Illness Anxiety Disorder (Hypochondriasis)

Written by
Dr. Vasantha K S
and medically reviewed by iCliniq medical review team.

Published on Apr 07, 2018 and last reviewed on Sep 07, 2018   -  2 min read

Abstract

Abstract

Persons with illness anxiety disorder or hypochondriasis seriously believe that they have a specific illness which is left undiagnosed, although that is not true. They constantly keep checking their body for changes and monitor their signs for an abnormality. But, in most cases, there is no disease, and even if there are some findings, it is usually something minor. This article focusses on the challenges that lie in treating this disorder.

Illness Anxiety Disorder (Hypochondriasis)

Illness anxiety disorder (IAD), previously referred to as hypochondriasis, is an overwhelming anxiety about a perceived illness lasting for a period of more than six months. People with IAD often rush to their primary care physician fearing that they have a serious condition. The doctor's reassurance that it is nothing does nothing to calm their nerves. They then switch doctor's because they suspect their physician has missed something major. There also few who avoid simple check-ups and investigations due to the fear of being diagnosed with a chronic disease.

Symptoms

  • Being paranoid about a specific disease (eg. cancer), organ (eg. brain) or system (eg. digestive system)
  • Persistently checking/examining the body for alarming signs.
  • Rushing to the doctor repeatedly in spite of reassurance.
  • Avoiding hospital visits due to worry that disease will be diagnosed
  • Insisting the doctor for a treatment or prescription when neither is necessary.
  • Either the symptom mentioned is not present, or even if it is, is only mild.
  • In case of chronic illness, their concern is out of proportion, that is they feel sicker than they really are.
  • Reading medical articles and researching extensively about the perceived condition.

Causes

  • Severe stress.
  • Serious childhood illness.
  • A family history of genetic disorders.
  • History of abuse or assault.
  • Loss of loved one.

Diagnosis

IAD usually starts in early adulthood or soon after losing a loved one to a disease.

Their physician suspects IAD when the person's complaints and history do not co-relate to their clinical findings. They are then referred to a mental health specialist, although, more often than not, he/she refuses to consult one.

The symptoms may also be reported by a close friend or family member.

Other signs to note are visiting multiple doctors without any conclusive findings.

Treatment

The hardest part of treating hypochondriasis is to get the patient to believe that their problem is more mental than physical. Since the physical symptoms they feel are very realistic, it is difficult for them to accept that there is no ailment. It is thus important for the doctor to deal with it correctly without brushing off the patient's concerns. This disorder is fairly common and fortunately, physicians know how to provide assurance in a proper way. The most accepted treatment is cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)

What is Cognitive Behavior Therapy?

The person is taught strategies to cope with their anxiety. This includes multiple sessions that are designed to gradually reduce their anxiety by exposing them to their fears as well as replacing their negative thoughts with positive ones. It includes:

  • Exposure and response prevention.
  • Cognitive restructuring.
  • Relaxation training.

For more information consult an anxiety disorders specialist online --> https://www.icliniq.com/ask-a-doctor-online/psychiatrist/anxiety-disorders

Last reviewed at:
07 Sep 2018  -  2 min read

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