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Can Anxiety Turn into Hypochondria?

Anxiety is an aspect of psychology in which the body produces stress reactions in response to a perceived threat. This typically occurs in the context of a situation or event, such as in the case of social anxiety, performance anxiety or specific phobias including fear of heights, fear of being in narrow places. However, the threat may also be a perceived health problem. This is not just the normal concern we all have about staying healthy, but a debilitating worry that often impairs your daily functioning. This is called Illness Anxiety Disorder.

Illness Anxiety Disorder

Illness Anxiety Disorder, Formerly called Hypochondriasis, Is a debilitating mental health condition where you worry about having a particular illness, even in the absence of symptoms and signs of the disease. In other situations, minor signs such as a minor abdominal pain or muscle twitching maybe misinterpreted as a symptom of a much more serious disease.

In Illness Anxiety Disorder, your worry about having the illness is often obsessive and consuming that it impairs all other aspects of your life. This distinguishes it from a normal, healthy concern about one’s health.

For instance, you may have an obsessive fear that you have cancer. In the absence of typical symptoms of– and even with negative test results for - cancer, you may continue to believe that you have cancer. Slowly, this belief begins to consume you and you find yourself visiting several doctors and hospitals to re-order tests and repeat physical examinations to confirm that you do not have cancer. Even when several doctors confirm that you don’t have it, you still end up not believing it.

Illness anxiety disorder differs from somatic symptoms disorder, in which you have an excessive preoccupation with an actual severe physical symptom, which has no cause related to a physical disease.

Symptoms of Illness Anxiety Disorder

The symptoms of illness anxiety disorder arise from your obsession with having a certain disease and may include:

· Excessive and irrational worry that minor symptoms may be signs of a much serious disease.

· Worrying excessively about having a disease or your risk of having it because it runs in the family.

· Finding little to no reassurance when doctors or test results suggest contrarily.

· Making frequent hospital visits and undergoing repeated lab tests to confirm the presence of the disease. In some cases, some people avoid doctors visits for fear of being diagnosed for a serious illness.

· Having so much distress because of your concern about your health that it impairs other aspects of your life.

· Performing irrational health-related behaviours such as constantly checking to see if your symptoms match the typical symptoms of a disease.

· Avoiding people, places, or activities for fear of increasing your risk of the disease.

· Constantly searching the internet for causes or symptoms of the perceived disease.

· Constantly talking to people about possibly having the disease.

What Causes Illness Anxiety Disorder?

Illness Anxiety Disorder typically begins in early adulthood but its exact cause is not known; However, certain factors may play a role:


A wrong belief in the presence of a serious disease may arise from conversations with non-health professionals or false information from other sources. For instance, you may have a rash in your arm, which may be a fungal infection, but a friend of yours who is not a doctor may tell you that it is likely to be skin cancer. This leads you to search for evidence on the internet or elsewhere to confirm that you have skin cancer.

A family History

You are more likely to develop this unhealthy obsession about your health if you have or had a family member or members that worried too much about their own health too. Also, from the above story, you are more likely to get worried that you have skin cancer – even when it has been ruled out by tests and doctor’s examination - if a family member had been diagnosed with it.

Past Experience

Past experiences about having a serious illness or of a family member or loved one having a serious illness may make you excessively worried about having the same or other illnesses.

Risk factors of illness anxiety disorder include:

· Dealing with a major stressful event

· Past history of abuse as a child

· Excessive consumption of health-related internet information

· A serious childhood illness or a family member with a serious childhood illness.

· Personality traits, such as having a tendency to overthink things.

Treatment for Illness Anxiety Disorder

Illness Anxiety Disorder can be treated effectively with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and anti-anxiety medications. CBT techniques help the individual to re-evaluate their thoughts and fears and replace them with rational ones.

You may also employ certain strategies to lower your anxiety. These include avoiding stimulants, practising mindfulness, exercise and other relaxation techniques.


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F: 08 6313 0920

​E: support@epsychiatry.com.au

This is not an emergency service. Same day consults are not available. If you are in distress please contact your nearest emergency department, your local area mental health service triage or dial "000".  

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