Illness Anxiety Disorder, also known as hypochondriasis, is a serious disorder that leaves people preoccupied with the fear of having a serious illness which usually begins during early adulthood. Diagnosis of this disorder takes place when fears and symptoms persist for more than 6 months even after medical doctors’ evaluation and reassurance.
People with illness anxiety disorder complain about pain, or other health problems when there is no physical explanation for them. Medical tests will appear negative, but this will not ease the anxiety that comes with this disorder. These symptoms are called hypochondriacs and with the stigma attached to them, these symptoms are often subject of jokes. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM5) removed the term hypochondriacs from its books because of this stigma amongst people.
Some common indicators of hypochondria is worrying about brain tumor during a headache or believing in a lung cancer during a coughing spell. Sometimes multiple doctor visits which is called ‘doctor-hopping’ might be an indicator of hypochondria.
It is really important to understand that people with Illness Anxiety Disorder do not purposefully create fake symptoms more do they have ability to control them without help and knowledge. In general, people who experienced physical or sexual abuse more likely to suffer from IAD. This of course does not mean everybody who suffer from it had sexual or physical abuse in their past.
Symptoms of Illness Anxiety Disorder
Preoccupation with thoughts of illnesses with or without physical signs. The person becomes anxious and worried to an unrealistic extend. The person is constantly concerned about his well-being and often disturbed about his or her health. This person also nonstop monitors the signs of sickness without any reason to do so. Sometimes there may be avoidance of having medical advice or going through a check-up because of anxious feelings about possible findings or diagnosis.
People who suffer from Illness Anxiety Disorder may have dramatic statements about their health. They may have exaggerated amount of self-pity and imaginary symptoms. These people research about the disease they imagine they have and use their incomplete knowledge to convince themselves that they really have these symptoms. They may end up overusing health care services and insurances.
If you suffer from this disorder you may complain about gastrointestinal symptoms, headaches, muscle fatigue, fever or night sweats, nausea, joint pain, back pain, heart palpitations, stomach pain, etc.
Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Paroxetine and Fluoxetine show great amount of success treating this disorder. These medications adjust the neurotransmitter levels if there is a cause for obsessions or anxiety. Medications to treat mood disorders or anxiety disorder may also help.
The main goal of psychotherapy is to help individuals to improve their daily life with this disorder, Individuals who suffer from Illness Anxiety Disorder (IAD) will benefit from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy. These therapies will teach individuals how to respond properly to benign signals of their symptoms. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can identify fears and wrong beliefs about having serious medical disorders. With help of CBT, people become more aware of how their worries affect them and their behaviors. They learn how to reduce behaviors of frequently looking for body signs of illnesses. Exposure Therapy and Behavioral Stress Management also show some success during treatment of Illness Anxiety Disorder.
It is very important to have support system and trusting therapist and medical doctor if you suffer from IAD.
Disclaimer: The comments and suggestions in this article are intended to be helpful in developing a treatment plan with the guidance of a physician. Please consult a medical doctor about which options would be best for you. Do not take any supplements or medicine without discussing the effects with your physician. The author is not responsible for any affects or the effectiveness of these treatments.
ELIF ANGEL RAYNOR, MS., MIBA.
Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern
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