What It Really Means To Have Hypochondria

Having previously appeared in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), hypochondriasis, or alternatively referred to as hypochondria (via the Mayo Clinic), has since been modified and is now referred to as illness anxiety disorder (IAD) (via the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). According to the DSM-5, illness anxiety disorder is classified as "preoccupation with having or acquiring a serious illness."

Illness anxiety disorder is considered a chronic condition in which the severity of symptoms can vary for different people (via the Mayo Clinic). Some people may not have any symptoms, while others may interpret common body sensations, such as muscle contractions, stomach grumbling, or fatigue as indicators of severe health conditions. For those diagnosed with the disorder, the anxiety and excessive worry that accompanies it can greatly impact one's quality of life.

Experts believe the cause of the condition may stem from family history, past experiences, or personal beliefs. The onset of symptoms often begins in early or mid-adulthood and can progress with age (via the Mayo Clinic). Those particularly susceptible to the disorder may include individuals who engage in frequent health-related internet searches, those who have a family member with a serious health condition, or those having experienced child abuse.

Symptoms of illness anxiety disorder (IAD)

Symptoms of illness anxiety disorder can include, but are not limited to, feeling alarmed about your health status, anxiety that impacts your ability to function, repeatedly checking your body for illness symptoms, or finding minimal or no relief after doctor appointments (via the Mayo Clinic).

It's important not to dismiss someone who presents these symptoms, as their concerns can be indicative of a physical medical condition (via the Mayo Clinic). If you believe you may be experiencing illness anxiety disorder, consult a doctor. They can provide a referral for mental health support if they believe a patient may be showing signs of the disorder.

Although treatment for IAD is not always clear-cut, a 2019 study published in Frontiers of Psychiatry indicated that a multi-faceted approach proved to be highly effective in a patient with severe IAD. When combined with medical care, healthcare providers used a cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) approach toward the patient's medical decision-making. In addition to reducing doctor assurance and medical workup, implementing CBT resulted in a decrease in the patient's medication usage and effective treatment of the disorder.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.