Illness Anxiety Disorder
Illness anxiety disorder (IAD), also known as hypochondriasis, health anxiety or health phobia, involves an excessive, irrational preoccupation or worry about having a serious illness or disease, even when there is no medical evidence to support the presence of an illness.
People diagnosed with this anxiety disorder are convinced they have a serious or life-threatening illness even though they don’t have any symptoms. Even after doctors and medical tests find no illnesses, they are not dissuaded and their obsessive concern continues. IAD also occurs in people who do have a physical illness, but obsess that they are sicker than they really are.
IAD is not about the presence or absence of illness, but the person’s psychological reaction. Some people with IAD experience physical symptoms due to their level of stress. This may occur as a phenomenon known as “white coat syndrome” during which a person’s blood pressure rises in the presence of doctors or medical facilities
Symptoms of Illness Anxiety Disorder
People who had IAD often experience the following:
- Excessive worry over having or getting a serious illness
- Complaints about physical symptoms that are not present or mild
- If an illness is present, there is an irrational fear of developing an additional illness or getting sicker
- Consistently high level of anxiety and concern over personal health
- Obsessive and excessive health-related behaviors such as checking for signs of illness
- Avoidance or doctors’ appointments and hospitals
Causes of IAD
The exact cause of IAD is not known, but there appear to be specific risk factors that may increase a person’s chances of developing IAD:
- Major life stress or crisis
- Severe physical symptom such as chest pain or memory problems
- History of abuse or trauma
- History of chronic childhood illness
- Having another mental disorder, such as an anxiety disorders or a mood disorder
Treatment Illness Anxiety Disorder
The focus of treatment for people with IAD is helping the person to function as normally as possible, ease mental distress, and reduce overuse of medical services. The best way to achieve these goals depends a lot on the patient’s preferences, and on the presence or absence of other illnesses commonly associated with IAD. The patient’s primary doctor should continue to play an important role because he or she can most easily monitor the person’s office visits and ongoing health care needs.