We usually call people who are excessively concerned about getting sick hypochondriacs. But the psychiatric community has split this behavior into two disorders: somatic symptom disorder (those who misinterpret routine physical symptoms like headaches or fatigue as serious illness) and illness anxiety disorder.
Individuals with illness anxiety disorder are preoccupied about having or getting a serious illness, despite having no or very mild physical symptoms. They are excessively anxious about health and disease, and their worries are not assuaged by test results or doctors’ reassurance that nothing is wrong. Some become too anxious to even see a doctor.
- Conviction that a disease is present even though symptoms are either nonexistent or very mild
- Frequent trips to doctors or a fear of visiting the doctor
- Constantly checking one’s body for signs of illness
- Intense anxiety during doctor’s appointments
- Requesting to see multiple doctors for the same minor issue and becoming increasingly frustrated and anxious at the repeated lack of diagnosis
- Feeling or expressing severe alarm upon reading or hearing about illnesses and health issues
- Excessive Internet research about the suspected disease
- Avoiding activities that could jeopardize their health, such as visiting sick relatives or exercising
Like its counterpart, somatic symptom disorder, IAD is most often treated with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps patients identify where their fears come from and help them cope with them. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are also used to reduce anxiety in individuals with IAD.