Can You Be Treated For Hypochondria?

No one wants to get sick, and it's only natural to have a fear of disease when you're experiencing symptoms of an illness. However, there are some individuals who fear illness to an extreme degree, believing wholeheartedly they are sick when they aren't. The term describing this condition, "hypochondria," is probably familiar to you, but you may not know that the symptoms associated with hypochondria can sometimes constitute a disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic, "illness anxiety disorder" is the formal name for hypochondria, which may also be referred to as "hypochondriasis." 

A person with illness anxiety disorder feels extreme anxiety about becoming ill, even if they aren't experiencing symptoms of an illness. They may mistake normal body functions and small physical sensations as signs of a serious disease, and in-depth medical tests are not enough to ease the person's worries. These fears can negatively impact their daily living in the form of constant anxiety about having an illness, which can make it difficult to function. Someone with illness anxiety disorder may also obsess over typical body functions and spend much of their time researching diseases, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Other symptoms include frequent body checking, a tendency to exaggerate symptoms, and isolating oneself from others to avoid getting sick. Individuals with personalities that are more prone to worrying may be at increased risk of developing illness anxiety disorder (per Mayo Clinic).

What are available treatments for hypochondria?

We know there are effective treatment options available for other anxiety disorders, so you may be wondering if there's hope for people who struggle with hypochondria. As pointed out by the CalmClinic, getting better from having hypochondria takes a certain level of self-awareness and commitment to treatment. Illness anxiety disorder is a challenging disorder to treat because individuals who are experiencing it can believe so adamantly that their symptoms are real despite medical examinations suggesting otherwise, notes Dr. Arthur Barsky in a study description on Even if they're aware that their thinking is unrealistic, some people experiencing hypochondria may still hesitate to embrace treatment. Symptoms of health anxiety can feel very real to a person with illness anxiety disorder, and it takes courage to recognize one's own distorted thoughts and to reach out for help.

Several methods may be used to treat hypochondria, including psychotherapies, medication to treat symptoms of anxiety and depression, and even acupuncture (per Mount Sinai). One of the most promising treatments for hypochondria is believed to be cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), per the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies. The goal of CBT is to change the way someone thinks and behaves when they have health anxiety and to challenge the beliefs they hold about their health that are unhelpful. During a CBT session, a psychotherapist might encourage their clients to gradually expose themselves to their worries (per Psychology Tools). Additionally, a CBT therapist can help someone with hypochondria recognize that the body sensations they've been misinterpreting are actually normal.