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Illness Anxiety Disorder

What is Illness Anxiety Disorder?

It is normal for a person to want to stay healthy and to take note of bodily changes that are concerning. However, a person with illness anxiety disorder (Hypochondriasis) has a persistent fear of having a serious medical illness, and tends to interpret normal sensations, bodily functions and mild symptoms (e.g. normal sounds of digestion, sweating or a mark on the skin) as signs of a serious disease. In severe forms, there is a tendency to consult multiple doctors, looking for one that will confirm the presumed illness. These concerns are very real to a person with hypochondriasis. If left untreated, this condition can lead to an obsessive preoccupation with the idea of being unwell and it can interfere with person's daily life. Hypochondriasis is not about the presence or absence of illness, but the psychological reaction towards it.


Individuals with the symptoms below that have persisted or worsened are encouraged to seek advice from a doctor or healthcare professional:

  • The individual has a preoccupation with having or acquiring a serious illness.
  • Somatic / Physical symptoms are not present or if present, only mild in intensity. If another medical condition is present or there is a high risk for developing a medical condition (e.g. there is a strong family history), the preoccupation is clearly excessive or disproportionate.
  • The individual has a high level of anxiety about health, and is easily alarmed about personal health status.
  • The individual performs excessive health-related behaviours (e.g. repeatedly checking body for signs of illness) or shows maladaptive avoidance (e.g., avoiding doctors’ appointments and hospitals).
  • The individual's preoccupation is not better explained by another mental disorder.

The symptoms of illness anxiety disorder may be relieved by the use of medications, such as anti-depressants. Psychological therapies, including the use of distraction and relaxation techniques, are also helpful in managing the symptoms, as well as the stress associated with having this condition.

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