Illness and Anxiety Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Illness Anxiety Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Are you concerned about your health all the time? Do you often go to many physicians to get reassurance about your symptoms? Do you insist on being scanned and having blood tests done on a regular basis?

In such scenario, it is possible that you have an illness anxiety disorder (IAD). The medical community recognizes it as a psychiatric problem that requires a different diagnosis than other mental health issues. Excessive and ongoing concern for one’s health and an irrational fear of having or acquiring a major medical illness are among its defining characteristics. It causes compulsive behaviors that make it difficult for victims to go about their daily lives regularly.

Let’s examine the characteristics of anxiety disorders in greater detail.

The illness-anxiety disorder’s history

The original name for illness anxiety disorder was hypochondriasis. Greek doctors were the first to use the word “hypochondria” in traditional medicine. Thus, the Greek term “hypochondrios,” which meaning “under cartilage,” is where the name hypochondrium originates. The word refers, in essence, to the areas of the body between the navel and the ribs.

Illness Anxiety Disorder

Why is it the case? Back then, hypochondria was thought to be a medical ailment that started in the stomach and moved up to the brain, where it resulted in psychological issues. Furthermore, until recently, the term “illness without a specific cause” was associated with hypochondriasis.

The name “hypochondriasis” was completely rejected in the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) since it was considered disparaging. Instead, a new label called “illness anxiety disorder” was added. Currently, the DSM-5 lists health anxiety and disease anxiety under “somatic symptom and related disorders.” Because of the similarities and overlap of symptoms with other mental health conditions including OCD and generalized anxiety, it is one of the most difficult psychological diseases to identify and treat.

What Are Illness Anxiety Disorder’s Causes and Risk Factors?

Although the precise causation of anxiety disorders is unknown, a number of risk factors have been shown to be plausible contributors to the condition.

Illness Anxiety Disorder: How Common Is It?

The prevalence of IAD, a relatively recent medical diagnosis, is approximated using historical data on hypochondriasis. The following are significant epidemiological data on anxiety disorders:

Has the Risk of Illness Anxiety Disorder Increased Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic?

There is no question that Covid and sickness anxiety disorder are positively correlated. People with health concerns now find it more difficult to manage their symptoms as a result of the coronavirus epidemic. Since the epidemic, there has been a 25% rise in mental health problems such anxiety and depression, according to WHO [1*]. The main causes of this increase include being alone because of social isolation, being afraid of being sick, having money issues, and having seen a loved one die.

What Indicates a Sickness Anxiety Disorder?

The main feature of anxiety disorder symptoms is the belief that one has a significant medical issue even when there are no physical symptoms or just mild ones. These might be a little rash, a slight bruise, or moderate soreness.

The following behaviors are indicative of someone who is experiencing health anxiety:

Which Illness Anxiety Disorder Types Are There?

Depending on the patient’s behavior and reaction, IAD is classified into two types:

How is a diagnosis of illness anxiety disorder made?

To diagnose anxiety disorder, one must first rule out any medical symptoms or disorders that the patient may be most concerned about. Subsequently, a thorough psychological assessment is carried out in order to identify any underlying problems or coexisting disorders that may be contributing to the issue. The DSM-5 criterion is used by medical practitioners to diagnose health anxiety. A person must possess the following traits in order to meet the DSM-5 criteria for sickness anxiety disorder:

A diagnostic instrument called “The Health Preoccupation Diagnostic Interview” [2*]. has also been developed by researchers to help with the diagnosis of somatic symptom disorder and health anxiety. The degree of sickness anxiety disorder may also be assessed using a self-assessed “Health Anxiety Inventory [3*] scale test. Furthermore, a someone might still be diagnosed with IAD even if they have a medical condition but their concerns about it are unwarranted.

What Is the Treatment for Illness Anxiety Disorder?

Various methods for treating anxiety disorders include:


The preferred and scientifically confirmed [4*] treatment for health anxiety is therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most used therapeutic approach for this goal. It assists in determining the patients’ problematic beliefs and attempts to address such beliefs using techniques for behavioral change. In situations of health anxiety, CBT also assists patients in distinguishing between normal and abnormal bodily feelings.

To treat IAD, in addition to cognitive behavioral therapy, alternative treatments such as acceptance and commitment therapy and exposure therapy may be used.


Taking antidepressant drugs is the second line of treatment for IAD. The most often recommended pharmacological medications for symptom remission are newer antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). These medications often take four to six weeks to start working and have the expected therapeutic benefits. Patients may need to take the drugs for six to twelve months as maintenance therapy in the event that they have a favorable response.

Approach to Lifestyle Treatment

For the therapy of sickness anxiety disorder, a lifestyle treatment plan [4*] can be the best choice. Through motivation, it attempts to alleviate health anxiety by addressing the lifestyle factors that contribute to the illness. Patients are required to take an active role in their care and modify their lifestyle significantly in order to follow the prescribed course of treatment. With the help of a mental health professional, this approach places a strong emphasis on motivational interviewing and may do away with the need for medicine to treat symptoms.

Techniques for Self-Management

Using a variety of coping mechanisms in conjunction with medical care might hasten healing and reduce symptom recurrence.

What Consequences Can Untreated IAD Cause?

Health anxiety may lead to a number of issues and exponential misery if left untreated:

What Is the Duration of Illness Anxiety Disorder?

The length of anxiety disorders varies from person to person and cannot be prescribed. Episodes of health worry may recur in cycles with no discernible pattern. It is often a long-term mental health issue that becomes worse if it is not diagnosed and treated in a timely manner.

Can Panic Attacks Be Caused by Illness Anxiety Disorder?

Yes, panic episodes are prevalent among those who suffer from an anxiety condition. When the underlying cause is treated, these assaults usually stop.

What Separates Illness Anxiety Disorder from Other Mental Health Issues?

IAD is a distinct mental illness. It may, however, often be confused with other psychiatric disorders that have certain characteristics. The following list of comorbid conditions is linked to health anxiety:

Last Remarks

Anxiety disorder related to illness is among the most intricate psychiatric diseases. It is difficult to treat and worsens over time if appropriate medical care is not received. People who have IAD are obsessed with the idea that they have a severe disease yet don’t have any physical symptoms. The best treatments for health anxiety are lifestyle medicine, medication, and therapy.