Health Anxiety Disorder
Definition

Illness Anxiety Disorder is a relatively new name for what has been more commonly referred to as Hypochondria, or Hypochondriasis. Illness Anxiety Disorder is best described as the obsessive, persistent, and irrational fear of suffering, or that one will suffer from, a disease or serious medical condition. Illness Anxiety Disorder is based on an individual's repeated misinterpretation of bodily cues, and exists despite medical reassurance that the individual does not have a disease or illness. Illness Anxiety Disorder goes beyond normal concerns with health, and can seriously impact academic and professional functioning, as well as interpersonal relationships.

It is important to realize that people with Illness Anxiety Disorder are unable to control the symptoms and do not purposely create them.

Symptoms

Some examples of common obsessions seen in Illness Anxiety Disorder include: Some common examples of compulsions seen in Illness Anxiety Disorder include: Physical sensations may also accompany these obsessions and compulsions. Physical sensations may include: tenderness, dizziness, swelling, palpitations or pain.

Prevalence

It is estimated that 2-5% of the population has clinically significant Illness Anxiety Disorder. It appears to be equally common in males and females. Research suggests that up to 10% of all visits to primary care physicians may be due to Illness Anxiety Disorder-related fears. Clinically severe Health Anxiety may begin anywhere from teenage to older years. The peak age of onset is in the twenties and thirties.

Treatment

The most promising treatment for Illness Anxiety Disorder is a form of psychotherapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT focuses on helping a person change their destructive and unhelpful patterns of thinking by recognizing what makes the symptoms worse, developing methods of coping with the symptoms, and understanding the importance of staying active despite the presence of symptoms.

Antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can help reduce the worry and physical symptoms of this disorder.