Illness Anxiety

Overview

Illness anxiety disorder, sometimes called hypochondriasis or health anxiety, is worrying excessively that you are or may become seriously ill. You may have no physical symptoms. Or you may believe that normal body sensations or minor symptoms are signs of severe illness, even though a thorough medical exam doesn’t reveal a serious medical condition.

You may experience extreme anxiety that body sensations, such as muscle twitching or fatigue, are associated with a specific, serious illness. This excessive anxiety — rather than the physical symptom itself — results in severe distress that can disrupt your life. Illness anxiety disorder is a long-term condition that can fluctuate in severity. It may increase with age or during times of stress. But psychological counseling (psychotherapy) and sometimes medication can help ease your worries.

Symptoms

Symptoms of illness anxiety disorder involve preoccupation with the idea that you’re seriously ill, based on normal body sensation (such as a noisy stomach) or minor signs (such as a minor rash). Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Being preoccupied with having or getting a serious disease or health condition
  • Worrying that minor symptoms or body sensations mean you have a serious illness
  •  Being easily alarmed about your health status
  • Finding little or no reassurance from doctor visits or negative test results
  • Worrying excessively about a specific medical condition or your risk of developing a medical condition because it runs in your family
  • Having so much distress about possible illnesses that it’s hard for you to function
  • Repeatedly checking your body for signs of illness or disease
  • Frequently making medical appointments for reassurance — or avoiding medical care for fear of being diagnosed with a serious illness
  • Avoiding people, places or activities for fear of health risks
  • Constantly talking about your health and possible illnesses
  • Frequently searching the internet for causes of symptoms or possible illnesses

When to see a doctor

Because symptoms can be related to health problems, it’s important to be evaluated by your primary care provider if this hasn’t already been done. If your provider believes that you may have illness anxiety disorder, he or she may refer you to a mental health professional.



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