Hypochondriasis Explained

Hypochondriasis is now more commonly known as Illness Anxiety Disorder (IAD). It is an official mental disorder that requires a diagnosis. When someone is diagnosed with hypochondriasis, it means they believe they have incredibly serious illnesses or diseases, when in fact nothing is physically wrong with them.

Someone with IAD may believe they have a life-threatening illness. They might even believe they have certain symptoms of different diseases, even if no one else sees those symptoms. Or, the symptoms they do have could be very mild to everyone else (including medical professionals) but seem incredibly severe to the person dealing with them.

It can be easy to brush off hypochondriasis as a disorder for someone who only wants attention or who might be paranoid. But, it goes much deeper than that, and can be a real problem for the people struggling with it every day.

What Are the Signs of Hypochondriasis?

The biggest tell-tale symptom of IAD is worrying excessively about having a particular illness or disease. Or, you may fear that you will eventually contract a life-threatening illness. Other common symptoms include:

Extended fear of an illness (more than six months)
Constant anxiety over health
Avoiding doctors
Obsessed with self-checking health status (checking blood pressure, etc.)
Concern for developing illness at some point is out of hand
The fear that can go along with hypochondriasis can be crippling for the individual dealing with it. Unfortunately, there isn’t one concrete cause when it comes to what triggers some people to feel this way. However, certain risk factors have been identified, including:

A major life change
Stressful event
History of abuse, especially in childhood
History of physical illnesses
How Can IAD Be Treated?

IAD is diagnosed only based on what symptoms are described by the person going through it, as well as family members or friends who have noticed the symptoms as well. A mental health professional will want to know as many details as possible about what the individual is feeling, and when the symptoms started.

Management for hypochondriasis typically consists of regular office visits their primary care physician. That physician can help to ease their stress and offer peace of mind. Visits as frequently as every week may be needed. It’s a good idea for the person with the disorder to stick with one doctor throughout the process.

If the fear becomes too severe for the person with IAD, they may need to seek out additional treatment and help from a mental health professional. A mental health doctor can help the individual figure out what might be causing hypochondriasis in the first place. Once that can be determined, it may become easier to treat and/or manage it.

The ultimate goal for someone dealing with IAD is to feel less mental stress and try to function and live as normal of a life as possible. Being able to understand that you don’t have some serious condition can be difficult for the people who truly believe something is wrong with them. No matter what cause you to start feeling this way, it’s important to find a management solution that works for you as soon as possible, so you can begin living your life freely again.

Written by, Janessa M Borges, Clinical Social Work, Therapist, LCSW, Couples Counseling Naples. My therapeutic approach is providing support to help clients effectively address personal life challenges, help them build on their strengths and attain the personal growth they are committed to accomplishing. When couples feel distressed & disconnected I integrate eclectic techniques offering a personalized approach tailored to each client.