Hypochondriasis

Hypochondriasis

Hypochondriasis

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.

Hypochondria

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, no longer includes hypochondriasis, also called hypochondria, as a diagnosis. Instead, people previously diagnosed with hypochondriasis may be diagnosed as having illness anxiety disorder, in which the focus of the fear and worry is on uncomfortable or unusual physical sensations being an indication of a serious medical condition.

Causes 

True cause is unknown, but several factors may increase the risk of developing disease including:                                                                 

  • Major life stress event
  • History of abuse or neglect as a child
  • History of childhood illness
  • Family history of hypochondriasis or anxiety issues
  • Disturbance in perception that magnifies normal sensations
  • Having another mental disorder (e.g. major depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, psychotic disorders)

Symptoms 

People with illness anxiety disorder have ongoing but unrealistic fear about being seriously ill. The specific illness(es) that they worry about often changes.

Some people with illness anxiety disorder may actually have a diagnosed physical illness. But because of illness anxiety disorder, they may feel their condition is more severe than it is.

Symptoms of illness anxiety disorder include:

  • Avoiding people or places due to worry about catching an illness.
  • Constantly researching diseases and symptoms.
  • Exaggerating symptoms and their severity (for instance, a cough becomes a sign of lung cancer).
  • High level of anxiety about personal health.
  • Obsession with normal body functions, such as heart rate.
  • Oversharing your symptoms and health status with others.
  • Repeatedly checking for signs of illness, such as taking your blood pressure or temperature.
  • Seeking reassurance from loved ones about your symptoms or health.
  • Uneasiness with healthy body functions like gas or sweating.

 

Diagnosis 

To diagnose illness anxiety disorder, healthcare providers refer to the criteria listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), 5th edition. Your provider may make a diagnosis or they may refer you to a behavioral health specialist, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.

A persistent fear about having a serious illness or developing one is the top symptom of illness anxiety disorder. Your provider may diagnose illness anxiety disorder if you have health anxiety (or other illness anxiety disorder symptoms) for six months or longer even after tests show that you’re not sick.

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