Illness anxiety disorder, also known as hypochondriasis, is a condition that causes very few, if any somatic symptoms. If you suffer from this condition, you may constantly complain of aches and pains or symptoms of a disease, but receive no diagnosis upon physical examination. Tests will constantly appear negative, but that will do nothing to ease your anxiety or you insistence that you have some dire disease or illness.
This disorder can and will disrupt your life. You may show minimal somatic symptoms or you may be completely absent of somatic symptoms. Illness anxiety disorder is in the proposed updated list of DSM-V (release date 2013) and is a type of hypochondriasis. With this disorder, you have minimal to no somatic symptoms and you honestly believe you are sick. In addition, you are highly focused on the “idea” of being sick.
Diagnostic Criteria for Illness Anxiety Disorder:
In order to be diagnosed with illness anxiety disorder, you must meet six of the following criteria:
- Complete absence of somatic symptoms, or if any somatic symptoms are present, they are minimally preset and very mild.
- Continuous worrisome preoccupation with thinking that the person has a serious medical condition. If the person is at high risk for a condition to develop, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, the anxiety level and concerns about the illness are very excessive and disproportionate. The patient is constantly worrying about the medical condition he or she suspects that they suffer from.
- Very high levels of health anxiety and anxiety about having acquired a serious medical condition. The individual demonstrates very low sickness thresholds and get alarmed very easily about their health.
- Performance of related extremely excessive behavior such as constantly checking for physical signs of sickness, constantly searching for information and trying to seek reassurance from other people, other sources and from the internet. The individual may also exhibit maladaptive avoidance such as avoiding a visit to the doctor’s office, missing appointments, avoiding sick friends and relatives.
- This state of being preoccupied constantly by concerns for their health has existed for at least 6 months (that is it’s a chronic condition) and the preoccupation may become inconsistent at times, just to start again later.
- The Illness anxiety disorder is not because of another disorder like panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder. The symptoms of another mental disorder are not present.
Causes of Illness Anxiety Disorder:
If you have this disorder, even minimal symptoms can cause intense anxiety and debilitation. Typically a serious illness in the family or a recent death in the family can trigger illness anxiety disorder. If someone in your family suffers from generalized anxiety disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder, you have an increased risk of developing illness anxiety disorder. Some researchers this disorder to very high levels of stress. Even if your “ailments” are nonexistent, you may actually feel physical pain due to a very high stress level or emotional distress.
Symptoms of Illness Anxiety Disorder:
This condition usually causes you to experience severe anxiety and an unnatural preoccupation with the idea of suffering from a serious illness. An actual medical condition is often absent, and your symptoms are perceived in an inaccurate way. In illness anxiety disorder, actual signs of an illness are either absent or minimally present, but you exaggerate the signs. Your anxiety and preoccupation with the condition causes you to become easily alarmed about anything that may affect your health or well-being. Even if the symptoms are very minor, you become convinced that you are suffering from a fatal condition or about to develop a serious illness. Illness anxiety disorder also persists after a physician has evaluated you and ruled out other medical conditions. If a mild general medical condition is diagnosed, the level of worry and anxiety far exceed the norm. Your preoccupation with illnesses has to persist for approximately 6 months for it to be diagnosed as illness anxiety disorder.
If you suffer from this disorder you may complain of the following:
- Gastrointestinal Symptoms
- Muscle Fatigue
- Fever Along With Night Sweats
- Rectal Pain
- Joint Pain
- Back Pain
- Heart Palpitations
- Urinary Pain
Treatment for Illness Anxiety Disorder:
When you have this disorder, you may feel frustrated with how physicians and mental health professionals treat you, especially when repeated medical tests and examinations do not show any medical condition. This lack of a diagnosis may cause you to continue searching for the answer. Illness anxiety disorder can result in severe clinical depression and an increased preoccupation with your health. You may avoid your friends and family members and even stay away from exercise or any activity that may trigger your symptoms. The best approach to treating illness anxiety disorder is through a combination of psychotherapy and medication.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy is highly effective at treating illness anxiety disorder. “Talk” therapy is also successful and is able to focus on your preoccupation. Your physical symptoms are addressed and you are taught how to “cope” with those stepmoms. Excessive worrying and anxiety are also targeted with the help of this approach to therapy.
Medications: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as paroxetine and fluoxetine have shown success when treating this disorder. These medications help adjust your neurotransmitter levels (brain chemicals that can cause obsessions and anxiety). Anti-depressants are also highly effective for treating anxiety and depression.
Exposure Therapy: Exposure therapy has also shown some success when treating illness anxiety disorder.
American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Retrieved from http://www.dsm5.org/ProposedRevision/Pages/proposedrevision.aspx?rid=10