Anxiety is a side of psychology in which the body produces stress reactions in response to a recognized threat. This typically occurs in the factors of a situation or event. For example, in the case of social and performance anxiety or specific phobias including fear of heights or 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 tiring worry that often impairs your daily functioning. This is called hypochondria.
Hypochondria is also known as an illness anxiety disorder. It 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 minor abdominal pain or muscle twitching may be misinterpreted as a symptom of a much more serious disease.
In hypochondria, your worry about having the illness is often obsessive and consuming that it impairs all other aspects of your life. However, 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. However, 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.
An 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 physical disease.
Symptoms of hypochondria
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
- Worrying excessively about having a disease or your risk of having it because it runs in
- 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 with a serious illness.
- Having so much distress because of your concern about your health that 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 hypochondria (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 worry that you have skin cancer – even when it rules out by tests and doctor’s examination – if a family member had been diagnosed with it.
Our 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 an illness anxiety disorder include:
Dealing with a major stressful event
Stresses add up. We are more likely to become anxious if there are other stresses in our lives. For instance, work stress can be hard to deal with. However, it becomes harder when there are family and friend stressors as well.
Past history of abuse as a child
Most importantly, experiencing child abuse can leave us feeling the world is unsafe. That we are powerless. We can worry about how we will cope. Just like we did as children.
Excessive consumption of health-related internet information
Too much health information can part contribute to hypochondria. Information is at our fingertips. This is new for us. Our minds are prone to worry. We need to set limits on the amount of information we try to take in.
A serious childhood illness or a family member with a serious childhood illness
Spending time in hospitals as a child can be triggering. It’s too much for a child. It shapes the way we see the world. Certainly, it impacts how we see people get care.
Personality traits, such as having a tendency to overthink things.
Some of us just think too much! That is to say, overthinking, being overly analytical is a trait. Hypochondria as we are learning can have different causes. Overthinking is a feature a lot of people with hypochondria have.
Treatment for Illness Anxiety Disorder
Can anxiety turn into hypochondria? Short answer, yes. Over time worries about health can later become hypochondria.
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.