Illness Anxiety Disorder: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

 

Hypochondriasis, more commonly referred to as Illness Anxiety Disorder (IAD), is a type of anxiety that affects nearly 300 million people worldwide. People with IAD are gripped by anxious thoughts about their health and have constant fear about contracting a severe illness.

IAD starts and takes place in the mind, but it can cause physical symptoms; discomfort, and pain, like an actual illness. However, in this case, these symptoms are not traceable to a real cause.

Obsessive fear over one’s health can hamper normal daily functioning since this constant fear does not decrease despite repeated reassuring examinations and tests.

This is a comprehensive guide where you will learn everything about Illness Anxiety Disorder. We will also discuss some symptoms, causes, comorbidities, and treatment approaches.

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This guide will empower you with the essential knowledge you need to know about IAD. By the end of this guide, you will understand IAD’s symptoms and ways to manage them.

 

1. History: Hypochondriasis Reclassified as Illness Anxiety Disorder

  • Is Hypochondriasis real?
  • When was hypochondria discovered?
  • How is this term related to Illness Anxiety Disorder?

In this chapter, we zoom in on Illness Anxiety Disorder from its early origins as hypochondria. You might have encountered the term Hypochondriasis while doing an online search about Illness Anxiety Disorder.

Early records of the word hypochondriasis date from the mid-1500s, with the first mention of hypochondria being in the early 1600s. A 17th-century definition stated that hypochondriacs suffered from “abdominal pain and depression without cause.”

It was not until the 19th century that the term hypochondriac was used to describe someone whose physical symptoms had no known cause.

Today this term can be used for people obsessed with their wellness and have endless fears about being sick.

In the world of healthcare, an extensive handbook, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), documents and classifies all mental illnesses for care providers.

The purpose of this manual created and managed by the American Psychological Association is to assist in the accurate diagnosis of any underlying mental disorder.

The DSM has undergone many revisions throughout its history. These have included significant modifications regarding categories and diagnoses of mental disorders.

New terms, Somatic symptom disorder and Illness Anxiety Disorder, were recently introduced in the DSM 5th edition, replacing Hypochondriasis.

Illness anxiety disorder has become the current and acceptable diagnostic term for Hypochondriasis.  With the new term, there are changes to some of the symptoms considered a manifestation of the condition.

The new categorization helps ensure that people who have real health issues receive the proper care without being assumed to have IAD.

 

Illness Anxiety Disorder Types
Illness Anxiety Disorder Types

 

An Overview of Hypochondriasis

Mental health professionals describe Hypochondriasis as a condition characterized primarily by an excessive fear of having an illness.

Historically, hypochondria can be traced to Hippocrates, where the illness was associated with the abdominal area responsible for secreting black bile (a body fluid).

It was known that excessive bile secretions would cause diseases related to the body and mind, such as hypochondria and melancholia.

The 18th century saw a shift in Hypochondriasis concepts evolving from a problem associated with body fluids to one caused by a nervous system problem.

This notion followed Robert Whytt’s observations that the origin and cause of Hypochondriasis related to a fault in the nervous system combined with some morbid matter found in the blood.

It wasn’t until the late 1800s that a neurologist in the USA named George Beard modified the term and narrowed its meaning to a delusional state of unwellness linked to abdominal issues.

The Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud also stressed hypochondria’s links to brain dysfunction.

Today, Hypochondriasis refers to a mental health condition associated with anxiety and fears about one’s overall health.

 

How Hypochondriasis Was Defined in the Old Days (Based on DSM-IV)

Before Hypochondriasis was renamed Illness Anxiety Disorder, the condition had a significantly broad definition in the DSM-IV.

Professionals considered it one of the many Somatoform Disorders. The latter refers to a group of mental illnesses that accompany physical illness that is hard to diagnose or treat.

 

Symptoms of Hypochondria

According to the DMS-IV, here is how hypochondria was diagnosed in the past:

  • A constant fear of being sick with a severe health issue
  • A misunderstanding of one’s bodily symptoms and believing everything to be illness-related
  • The patients continue to think worse of their health, despite reassuring medical tests
  • The obsessive fears last for six months or more for it to be considered Hypochondriasis
  • The fears cause significant clinical distress apart from negatively impacting the social life and daily functioning of the patient

 

Change from Hypochondriasis to Illness Anxiety Disorder

In DMS-V, health professionals made sweeping updates to the somatoform disorders with incomprehensible physical symptoms, as seen above.

Hypochondriasis was one of the many of these conditions affected by these changes. Two new titles were introduced; Illness Anxiety Disorder and Somatic Symptom Disorder.

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Today Hypochondriasis is generally referred to as health anxiety or Illness Anxiety Disorder.

It has the same symptoms as described earlier with a few changes:

  • The obsessive fear of being ill may or may not persist after a reassuring medical test.
  • The fear includes not just having but getting a serious medical condition.
  • The preoccupation may or may not cause clinical impairment
  • An IAD patient can have a high propensity to call and visit the doctor or be averse to seeing a doctor

 

2. What Are the Illness Anxiety Disorder Causes?

  • What are the psychological causes of anxiety?
  • What is the psychology behind hypochondria?
  • Are these causes the same in all patients with this disorder?

The following section will inform you on the underlying causes and pathophysiology of Illness Anxiety Disorder. This chapter aims to convey all of the underlying causes that lead to an IAD diagnosis.

 

What Are the Pathophysiological Factors for Illness Anxiety Disorder?

Being aware of an illness’s underlying causes is vital for successful treatment and management. That’s because impaired neurological functioning, as in the case of mental illness, requires individualized treatment.

An expert in mental health first checks for any physical reasons that might cause a patient’s illness and then determines whether medication or therapy is the best solution.

Let’s cut to the chase. The neurochemical fingerprints of Illness Anxiety Disorder and general anxiety and rapid mood swings are pretty similar.

All these conditions stem from low serotonin levels (the brain hormone that helps you wake up in the morning), affecting cognitive function and impairing how one perceives symptoms.

These neurochemical deficits in IAD patients provide preliminary insight into why a person with health anxiety will have many Obsessive-Compulsive-Disorder (OCD)-like symptoms and why OCD treatment is effective in IAD management.

Additionally, according to a recent study of biological markers, there was a deficiency in plasma neurotrophin and platelet serotonin in subjects meeting hypochondriasis diagnostic criteria (DSM-IV-TR).

 

What Causes Illness Anxiety Disorder?

Whenever planning treatment, it is necessary first to understand the origins of the disorder. These etiological traces may act as a guide to selecting the most appropriate treatments.

It’s hard to know what precisely causes Illness Anxiety Disorder, but some factors play a considerable role, which we will discuss one by one.

 

       1. Genetics

The genetic or family history of any condition is often considered by healthcare practitioners when analyzing patients because studies have proved that genetics can cause various physical and mental diseases.

There exists some evidence that Illness Anxiety Disorder is transmissible from generation to generation. However, this may not be the case for every patient. A clinician will scrutinize all signs of the illness before making a diagnosis for this disorder.

The probability of Illness Anxiety Disorder among children of patients with an Illness Anxiety Disorder is far low to be of any statistical significance.

 

risk factors of illness anxiety disorder
Illness Anxiety Disorder Risk Factors

 

       2. Developmental and Other Predisposing Factors

During Illness Anxiety Disorder diagnosis, a psychologist considers an individual’s early childhood and all predisposing factors during these stages. This is critical for accurate diagnosis of all major mental illnesses.

The traumas of childhood can cause anxiety later in life. Children who suffer or see someone close to them suffer severe illness can develop illness-related anxiety later. One of the factors contributing to this disorder can be parents’ attitude towards the child when they are ill.

 

       3. Mental Issues

Data by the National Institute of Mental Health shows that 50% of adults in the US with a psychiatric disorder have two or more conditions simultaneously.

A patient who has a mental illness can have symptoms of other disorders at the same time. DSM also emphasizes the importance of comorbidity (presence of other illnesses in a person) in diagnosing any given mental health disorder.

Usually, anxiety disorders such as depression and general anxiety can be indirect causes of Illness Anxiety Disorder (IAD). Patients with these mental conditions, whether diagnosed or undiagnosed, can be easily triggered by anxiety related to health.

 

       4. Cognitive Beliefs

The field of psychology has consistently examined the cognitive basis of behavior since its inception. A person’s cognitive function has a substantial impact on his or her psychological wellbeing.

Illness anxiety may be triggered by strong beliefs regarding the severity of symptoms. This belief might arise from the patient not being able to tolerate unpleasant body sensations.

Further, patients with Illness Anxiety Disorder, because of their low threshold for bodily feelings of discomfort or pain, are more likely to exaggerate their symptoms.

 

         5. Social Theory

Our social relationships and surroundings can also significantly impact our wellness. Therefore, social causes can be a critical factor to be considered in the diagnosis of psychological disorders.

The social learning theory explains Illness Anxiety Disorder as a person’s striving to fit into a sick role that can shield him/her from complex responsibilities, challenges, and roles that would drain his/her energy.

 

       6. Psychodynamic perspective

Psychologists use the psychodynamic theory to identify the root cause of any particular psychological problem. It is believed that some illnesses are the unconscious shields created by a person earlier in life to protect them from uncomfortable situations.

For example, patients may have hostile or angry feelings toward others, which can manifest as IAD symptoms. Symptoms of physical illness may be utilized as an indirect defense mechanism to disguise actual feelings. For instance, the mechanism can be used to thaw one’s guilt about their extreme anger.

 

3. Symptoms of Illness Anxiety Disorder

  • What are the signs that you have an Illness Anxiety Disorder?
  • Can one’s mind create unreal physical symptoms?
  • How is illness anxiety diagnosed?

In this section, we bring to light the symptoms of illnesses anxiety disorder that clinicians use in diagnosing a patient with the condition.

In line with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5 (DSM 5), illness anxiety is considered a mental health disorder.

It can significantly limit individuals’ abilities to function in social and occupational settings, resulting in significant distress.

 

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It is marked by a preoccupation with the fear of contracting a serious or life-threatening disease.

The symptoms include:

  • Extreme worry about contracting or having a severe disease or health condition.
  • Feeling that you might have a severe illness because of minor symptoms or body sensations.
  • Always being on edge about your health status.
  • Doctor visits and negative test results seem to provide little or no reassurance.
  • Persistently worrying about a particular health condition. 

 

Other Signs of IAD to Watch Out for:

  • Being so concerned about your risk for certain illness illnesses that you’re unable to function.
  • Regularly assessing yourself for signs of illness or disease.
  • Repeatedly seeking medical treatment from the local hospital or clinic — or avoiding medical care out of fear of being diagnosed with severe illness.
  • Obsessively searching the internet for the causes of a given illness or symptom.

In the diagnosis, health professionals often have to specify if the individual is care-seeking or care-avoiding. The former has a higher predisposition to schedule many doctor appointments. Similarly, the latter delineates an IAD that keeps one from seeking medical attention to the fear of diagnostic results or the mistrust of doctors.

 

Other Symptoms of IAD

Besides the symptoms mentioned above, the below signs may also appear in patients suffering from an Illness Anxiety Disorder:

  • You make dramatic assertions about health and other related issues.
  • You exaggerate your symptoms because of your preoccupied thoughts. 
  • Self-pity is commonly observed in people with IAD.
  • You continually research an illness because you falsely believe yourself to be experiencing symptoms of a medical condition you’ve been studying. It is categorized as “Medical student syndrome(MSS)”.
  • It is hard for you to get assurance from the doctors that you don’t have any diseases. 
  • You overuse health services by frequent tests, checkups, and surgeries.

 

Can Your Mind Make You Sick?

Psychosomatic is the name when emotions in the brain such as anxiety lead to physical symptoms.

Somatization is a component of our everyday experience. If you feel scared, you’ll notice your heart beating faster. If you’re annoyed, you’ll clench your teeth. These are examples of somatization.

Emotional distress can manifest as physical symptoms sometimes. These can be signs that a person is experiencing something problematic in his or her life.

If symptoms (such as stomachache, headache, and chest pain) persist, the emotional distress qualifies as a psychosomatic disorder.

 

4. Considerations for Diagnosing Illness Anxiety Disorder

The primary care provider may recommend physical exams and lab tests to help determine an IAD diagnosis. Your provider can advise you on treatment requirements and recommendations for specialists.

 

IAD Diagnostic Procedures Include:

An evaluation in which you discuss your symptoms and worries, how the anxiety is affecting you and your family, and ways in which the symptoms negatively affect you.

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You may be asked to fill a psychological assessment questionnaire and provide details about your history with alcohol and drugs.

The professionals will then determine whether your preoccupation with illness is caused by a mental disorder, like somatic symptom disorder or generalized anxiety disorder.

 

Diagnostic Approaches for Illness Anxiety Disorder

To diagnose anxiety illnesses, healthcare providers refer to the manual for mental disorders. They use the most recent version, which is DSM V.

To be diagnosed with IAD, earlier–mentioned symptoms should persist for at least six months in a person, although these symptoms can change in severity during this time. One of the most critical diagnostic factors for IAD is sustained fear of serious illness.

 

Differential Diagnosis of IAD

In the same way that a person suffering from an infection may feel fever, headache, or nausea, most mental health disorders can cause depression, anxiety, or sadness in the patients.

A differential diagnosis of the disorders is critical for mental health professionals to rule out all potential disorders that are likely to cause secondary symptoms.

 

IAD Patients Must Be Tested for:

       1. Physical Illnesses

A patient’s clinical history combined with the absence of physical findings is critical to confirm a diagnosis of Illness Anxiety Disorder. All mental health interventions can only be carried out after an extensive physical examination of the patient. A physical examination can be used in combination with a mental status examination.

 

       2. Adjustment Disorders

A person’s behavior can change or become irrational in the event of a stressful event. This is called Adjustment Disorder. Based on the DSM 5, health anxiety symptoms may be nothing but a normal response to a severe illness. Adjustment Disorders have to be ruled out before an IAD diagnosis.

A diagnosis of illnesses anxiety disorder can only be confirmed if patients have had the symptoms for at least six months. On the other hand, severe adjustment disorder can be diagnosed within three months of a person experiencing identifiable stress.

 

      3. Somatic Symptom Disorder

This form of mental illness, formerly known as somatization disorder, or somatoform disorder, leads to one or more physical symptoms such as pain.

It may or may not involve a physical problem, such as a general medical condition, mental illness, or substance abuse. However, the symptoms lead to excessive levels of distress.

IAD and Somatic Symptom Disorder are fundamentally different: An IAD patient is mainly concerned with the feeling that they may be ill. On the contrary, someone with Somatic Symptom Disorder has actual physical symptoms or distress.

 

       4. Depression

People with depression show a persistent sense of sadness and a loss of interest. This is different from the mood swings that many people usually experience in life.

Feelings of grief can occur in response to significant life events, such as bereavement or the loss of a job, but they only constitute depression if the state is long-lasting.

 

Cycle of Illness anxiety disorder
Illness Anxiety Disorder- The Vicious Cycle

 

Just like IAD, depression can have inexplicable physical symptoms. Patients on the edge of depression report symptoms like stomach aches, headaches, and muscle stretching. When the following concerns are present, health professionals must do further tests to confirm or rule out health anxiety.

 

       5. Body Dysmorphic Disorder

People who suffer from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) can’t stop worrying about one or more perceived flaws or defects in their appearance. This flaw usually is relatively small or invisible to others.

Many people with BDD often avoid social situations because they are ashamed, embarrassed, and anxious. The DSM-5 considers BDD to be a somatoform disorder but puts it under the delusional disorder category. Health anxiety is not a delusional disorder.

 

       6. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD is a condition in which people often feel driven to repeat an unwanted thought, feeling, or action for extended periods (compulsions). A person’s repetitive actions, such as cleaning the home or fixing things, can adversely affect their daily activities and social interactions.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder patients and those with IAD do not have similar symptoms except for anxiety. With an Illness Anxiety Disorder, the fears are primarily focused on the presence of a disease. In contrast, OCD patients may be more concerned about the fear of contracting a disease from an unclean environment.

 

       7. Anxiety Disorders

Individuals with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) feel anxious in general. Causes may be related to situations such as work, bills, or anxieties related to health.

Persons who suffer from GAD may anticipate a disaster and worry excessively about money, family, or health. On the contrary, patients with illness anxiety only worry about their health.

 

       8. Illness Anxiety Disorder Comorbidities

Comorbidity is a medical term that describes the presence of two illnesses or conditions concurrently.

To help formulate the best treatment plan for patients, mental health professionals often lookout for potential co-occurring disorders that may affect IAD.

As DSM indicates, at least two-thirds of patients with Illness Anxiety Disorders are more likely to have one other mental illness, primarily somatic symptom disorders and personality disorders.

The following disorders are considered IAD comorbidities:

  • Somatoform disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Post Traumatic Disorder
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Histrionic Personality Disorder (excessive attention-seeking behavior)

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5. Consequences of Illness Anxiety Disorder

Health anxiety is more prominent in adulthood, but it can worsen as you get older, and then it can lead to a loss of memory. This section dives deep into the various ways Illness Anxiety Disorder can impact your quality of life.

 

Physical Health Consequences of IAD

Being anxious about our daily life, in general, can have adverse effects such as elevated heart rate, breathing, and altered blood flow to the brain. These physical reactions prepare us physically for intense (fight or flight) life situations.

Now consider a person who faces daily anxiety related to their health. This can ignite the massive release of stress hormones. Stress hormones, in turn, can cause headaches, depression, and dizziness.

In the long term, this constant stress can have detrimental effects on one’s health, and these include an increased risk of heart disease, a weakened immune system, and respiratory health vulnerabilities.

 

       1. Relationships and Family Problems

Anxiety can have negative effects that aren’t just physical. It impacts relationships and family life as well. A person affected by Illness Anxiety Disorder can have two major outcomes; either a person will become too dependent or prefer to be alone.

Patients who worry excessively are not only burdened but also frustrated by those around them. Patients may become too wrapped up with their anxiety that they have difficulty understanding other’s needs.

IAD patients are generally less expressive of their feelings and are more likely to be intolerant. This may affect friendships and intimate relationships.

 

       2. Problems At Work

Individuals with IAD carry a heavy burden of excessive fear and worry–every day. As a result, they may have difficulty coping with their day-to-day tasks and workloads.

As employees, these people may have difficulty concentrating at work and meeting deadlines. Additionally, they might have poor relationships with co-workers and lower job satisfaction. They might be less confident about their abilities and performance. Because they spend all their time worrying, they have no time left to be creative.

 

       3. Daily Functioning

The DSM deems a health condition to be a disorder only if it significantly impacts daily functioning.

In addition to experiencing difficulties in performing their normal daily tasks, an individual battling health-related anxiety generally has a poor life quality.

Anxiety can be a heavy burden that makes it difficult to function properly in all areas of life. You may find it more challenging to cope with stressful situations.

 

       4. Financial Problems

If you suffer from an Illness Anxiety Disorder, you may also be more likely to become financially stressed. Since you worry too much about your health, you are more likely to spend insane amounts of money on healthcare services that you don’t actually need. You end up being broke.

Your finances may also be affected should you quit your job or be terminated for failing to perform at work.

Facing financial stress on top of health anxiety can turn your life upside down. Thankfully, medical and psychological interventions, if sought earlier, can prevent these worst-case scenarios.

 

Diagnosis of Illness Anxiety Disorder
How Is Illness Anxiety Disorder Diagnosed?

 

       5. Effect on Mental Health

People with Illness Anxiety Disorder need the right mental health intervention and social support. Without that, this is an excessively heavy burden for an individual and could trigger or worsen other mental health problems.

The situation is even worse if the individual has another mental health condition such as depression or OCD. Patients suffering from Illness Anxiety Disorder combined with co-morbid conditions such as depression or bipolar can struggle to overcome these symptoms.

 

6. Anxiety Disorder Prevention and Prognosis

Now that you are this far into the guide, you must have questions like these:

  • What can be done to stop health anxiety symptoms?
  • How can one prevent illness-related anxiety?
  • Is anxiety disorder preventable?
  • How long does IAD last?
  • How do I decide when to see a doctor?

Here are all of the details you need to answer these questions. The following section features information on preventative measures and the prognosis of IAD.

 

Preventing Illness Anxiety Disorder

Prevention of any disorder or disease aims at taking measures that can decrease the probability of its occurrence.

Based on the Psychiatric Association practice guidelines for mental health disorders prevention, an effective and appropriately designed intervention program can help avoid IAD.

Additionally, it helps to lessen the severity of symptoms through a combination of psychological and medical therapies.

Research is still needed on the best way to prevent Illness Anxiety Disorder, given its many possible causes. Even so, some hope is still there for the prevention of IAD.

There are many effective methods that clinicians can implement to help IAD patients effectively manage or overcome the condition.

Here are some of the interventions to consider if you have IAD symptoms:

 

       1. Seek Professional Help Early When You Need It

People might initially stereotype anxiety as unnecessarily freaking out about small things.

This stigma attached to mental health disorders can significantly lead to worsening the condition in the affected patients.

When you see IAD symptoms as mere tension or exaggerated thoughts, you might avoid seeking help when you need to.

A person should seek medical attention for severe illness or pain symptoms in the body as soon as possible. Getting early treatment can prevent the symptoms of health anxiety from worsening.

 

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       2. Understand and Manage Your Anxiety Symptoms

Everyone experiences anxiety differently. Symptoms can be severe or mild, occasional or frequent. Be aware of how your body reacts to stressful conditions and the associated negative symptoms, whether physical or emotional. Some professionals recommend keeping an anxiety journal.

The best way to prevent illness anxiety is for you to understand your stress and manage it. When you recognize anxiety, you are in a better position to understand how the condition manifests, as well as the potential outcomes the next time you have a panic attack.

A healthcare provider can work closely with you to help you overcome your illness anxiety symptoms.

We will take a deeper look at managing Illness Anxiety Disorder in the next chapter; but, for now, here is a summary:

  1. Exercises that relax the mind and muscles
  2. Deep breathing exercises
  3. Mindfulness exercises
  4. Psychological counseling
  5. Cognitive behavior therapy

 

       3. Comply With The Treatment Plan

Most individuals often fail to adhere to the treatments suggested by mental health professionals, which is why most disorders relapse.

In particular, a care-avoidant individual with a health anxiety disorder may find it particularly hard to trust the treatment plan prescribed to their condition.

The most important step in preventing Illness Anxiety Disorder is following every step in your doctor’s treatment plan and committing to it.

 

When Should I See a Doctor for Health Anxiety?

You should see a doctor for treatment if the anxiety has made you significantly uncomfortable for weeks or months.

You should consult a health professional if IAD interferes with your job performance or relationships with family and friends.

It may also mean it’s time to seek medical intervention if the anxiety affects your work and ability to do things you want to do.

Care-seeking individuals who suffer from Illness Anxiety Disorder are likely to contact doctors easily to satisfy their preoccupations. Yet, they might be reluctant to seek treatment from a mental health professional for fear of being considered somehow insane, the fear that their thoughts would be labeled irrational.

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For successful IAD treatment and prevention, psychological therapy and general medical care can be used remarkably well.

The next time you feel like you are experiencing too much anxiety about your health, consult a mental health expert immediately.

Please consider the questions listed below when discussing the condition with your doctor:

  • Is there any pain or physical discomfort in my body?
  • Is there anything unusual about these symptoms?
  • What could be the main cause of the discomfort?
  • How can I cope with the physical discomfort?

 

7. Treatment and Management of Illness Anxiety Disorder

There are several goals when treating or managing Illness Anxiety Disorder, including reducing the cognitive distress, relieving the physical symptoms, and ending the need for medical treatment.

 

Management Plan for Illness Anxiety Disorder

Treatment of illness anxiety relies on the synergistic effort of the patient and the mental health professionals.

An IAD management plan will succeed if the patient’s ability to cope with symptoms is enhanced.

The most important component is building a therapeutic alliance. It is the aim of our management plan that patients become self-sufficient enough to deal with anxiety attacks.

Check out this therapeutic checklist for overcoming illness anxiety:

 

       1. Gaining Awareness About IAD

Having a good foundation of knowledge is, of course, the first step to overcoming a challenge. When it comes to managing IAD symptoms, the patient needs to learn about illness anxiety because lack of knowledge fuels their fear. You are more likely to overcome anxiety by facing it head-on.

During treatment, patients should know:

  • What type of disorder is Illness Anxiety Disorder?
  • Is anxiety considered an illness?
  • What are the symptoms of IAD?
  • What causes it?
  • How can doctors help with an Illness Anxiety Disorder?
  • What can I do personally to manage/prevent the condition?

 

       2. Staying Off Google and WebMD

Continuous fear of having or contracting an illness can drive patients to search online for information constantly despite doctors’ reassurances.

However, the more patients obsessively research illnesses, the more anxious they become.

The first step in overcoming the conditioning and stopping anxious thoughts in their tracks is for patients to stay off Google and medical sites. A doctor’s direction is necessary for all medical-related information that these patients consume.

 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
4 Benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Illness Anxiety Disorder

 

       3. Use Relaxation Techniques Whenever the Symptoms Manifest

Reducing anxiety by relaxation techniques is generally considered the most effective management approach. This has significantly positive outcomes for IAD, OCD, depression, and all other similar conditions.

 

Relaxation Techniques

Here are the must-try relaxation techniques for IAD.

 

       1. Deep Breathing

Feeling anxious may cause your heart rate to become faster and your breathing to become heavier. You may also become sweaty and dizzy. However, controlling your breathing can relieve most of these symptoms and relax your body and mind.

Put one hand on your chest and one on your stomach so you can concentrate on breathing deeply. Your stomach should be moving more than your chest.

Do this in a quiet and comfortable place:

  • Breathe in slow motion and consistently through your own nose.
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth. Feel the air enter and flow out in your abdominal region.
  • Repeat this procedure at least ten times or until you start to feel your anxiety diminishing.

 

       2. Visualization

Thus far, you can concur that your mind is a powerful tool where wellness is concerned. If anxiety that starts in your mind can make you sick, then happy thoughts should help you feel well, right?

As a matter of fact, mental health professionals confirm that creating a mental picture of a happy place can help to calm a patient’s mind and body.

So right away, relax in a quiet, comfortable place as soon as you start feeling anxious. Think of a place you would like to go for a relaxing walk or vacation.

You may choose any place on the planet, real or imagined, but you must find it very peaceful, happy, and safe in the memory.

It should be easy for you to recall in the future so you can return to it when you are feeling anxious.

If you were to visit the place, how would it smell, feel, and sound? Imagine yourself relaxing there with no care in the world.

Take slow and deeper breaths through your nose and out of your mouth while picturing your “happy place,” and close your eyes.

As you continue breathing and envisioning the beautiful place in your mind, you may begin to feel your anxiety disappear. Go to this same place in the mind whenever you are feeling anxious.

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       3. Muscle Relaxation

Being anxious may make you feel tension or strain in your muscles. This muscle tension can make it even harder to cope with your anxiety.

Here is how to make it stop:

  • Sit still in a comfortable place and take deep breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.
  • Squeeze your fist and hold for a few seconds, then open your fingers and feel the tension in your hand dissipate.
  • Make this motion for all muscles in your body, from the neck to the shoulders, chest, abdomen, and feet.

 

       4. Count to Relax

Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit and count your way to 10 when you feel anxiety spell over you. This is a proven method that you can also use on the go or in public. You can count to a hundred or higher for as long as it takes for you to relax.

Counting can help you feel calmer because you get to focus on something besides your anxious thoughts. When in a crowded environment or when moving on a crowded train, where other techniques cannot be used, this method might help combat anxiety.

 

       5. Mindfulness

Being mindful means that you are at peace with what is happening now, with ease and without judgment. Being present when your thoughts are racing and anxiety is raging can help you stay calm.

Here is how to attain mindfulness when gripped by health anxiety:

  • Choose a quiet and comfortable spot to sit and shut your eyes.
  • Watch your breathing and the way your body feels.
  • Now pay attention to your surroundings and what sensations you notice. Observe the sounds, smells, and feels around you.
  • You can switch between being aware of your environment to your body and back to the environment a few times to decrease your anxiety.

 

       6. Interrupt Your Anxious Thoughts to Relax

Anxious thinking can make unreal thoughts seem real or turn a molehill into a mountain. One way to overcome health-related anxiety symptoms when they start to show is by interrupting your thought patterns.

Be aware of how worrying excessively negatively impacts your work or daily functioning.

Instead of focusing on your anxiety, try to think of something nice, including your happy place, the person you love, or some other pleasant experience.

Feel the difference when you focus your attention on a particular job and observe how you feel.

 

       7. Live a Holistically Healthier Lifestyle

A healthy lifestyle involves eating right, sleeping, and exercising. In addition to these steps, spending time with those you love or your family plays a most important part in relieving anxiety. Try to do little things that make you happy or go to your happy place, which will help you cope with your anxiety.

 

       8. Schedule a “Worry Time”

This may sound strange to you, but try it and see for yourself. It would be better if you take at least 30 minutes to face the issue head-on instead of constantly worrying throughout the day. In this session, look at your thoughts rationally–do you need to see a doctor, or are they just baseless fears?

 

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How to Treat Illness Anxiety Disorder At Home?

 

Treatment Options for Illness Anxiety Disorder

The best psychological treatments combine therapy and medication. The interventions aim to manage both present and future symptoms.

These therapies should be used in combination with a long-term goal. The specific therapeutic intervention chosen depends on a patient’s severity level and health history. Sometimes therapists combine several treatments at once.

Here are the various types of treatments for people with Illness Anxiety Disorder:

 

       1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the best treatments for anxiety. The CBT method helps identify and replace anxieties associated with a disease with realistic thoughts.

This type of psychotherapy aims to help individuals identify negative and troublesome thoughts that impact their behavior and emotions. The approach then aims to empower patients to neutralize, challenge or replace these thoughts with objective ideas.

While some CBT treatments aim to replace or challenge preexisting thoughts, others may work to change existing thoughts.

Some of these CBT skills help anxiety patients; however, they take time to master; they require practice.

  • Examining one’s own emotions
  • Reducing worry through cognitive strategies
  • Recognizing cognitive distortions as they shape up
  • Dismissing troublesome thoughts as guesses

 

       2. Mindfulness

Being mindful emphasizes being at peace with the present moment. This enables you to reflect on your thoughts without reacting. Being mindful can serve as an alarm when your anxious thoughts spring up so that you treat them as mere thoughts and nothing more. That way,  these thoughts lose their power over you.

It is not hard to attain a mindful state. Even if you are busy at work,  you can become mindful simply by focusing on the present.

Here are some mindfulness techniques that may be beneficial to you:

  • Simply relaxing and breathing as in meditation. Just be aware of your thoughts without judging them.
  • Feeling your senses: Be aware of seeing, smelling, touching, hearing, and tasting.
  • Feel what your body is experiencing when an anxious thought comes on and then passes.
  • Practice naming the emotions so that there is no judgment involved. Name your moods as joy, sadness, or happiness so you can understand your emotions better.

 

       3. Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)

Interpersonal therapy provides patients with the tools to work on their interpersonal relationships and address unresolved issues, experiences such as grief or conflict, or changes in social or work roles, which can contribute to a build-up of anxiety.

In ITP, a therapist works with patients to improve their emotions and how they communicate about them. Anxiety-related disorders have often been treated with ITP; however, ITP was originally used primarily for depression.

 

       4. Psychoanalytic Therapy

Therapy with this approach aims to help patients better understand the unconscious fears that impact their thoughts, behaviors, and emotions.

Psychoanalytic therapy is based on Sigmund Freud’s theories, an influential thinker who contributed significantly to understanding the human mind’s functioning.

The sessions involve patients discussing their lives with their psychoanalytic therapists, which leads to the method’s coined name, “the talking cure.

A therapy provider will assess your current difficulties based on recent patterns or recent significant events. Psychoanalysts try to expose how early childhood events and unconscious emotional states trigger mental illness and disruptive behaviors.

 

       5. Art Therapy

This nonverbal therapy employs creativity to cultivate awareness and mindfulness. It has become quite popular in recent years. Arts-based therapy can be of any form, particularly visual arts like painting, drawing, and photography.

In creating art, you may begin to examine what you have made and what it feels like to you. When you explore your art, you can unravel themes related to the way you behave, feel or think.

People of all ages, including children, teens, and adults, can participate in art therapy, and they do not need to be artistic or have a special talent to benefit from it.

 

Pharmacological Prescriptions for Illness Anxiety Disorder

Medicines that relieve illness anxiety can also be prescribed as part of a treatment plan. Several medications that help treat depression, anxiety, and illnesses in general, can facilitate the treatment of Illness Anxiety Disorders.

Examples include the groups of pharmacological prescriptions are listed below:

  • Antidepressants such as serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
  • Tricyclic drugs, a class of medicines that can assist with anxiety disorders.
  • Prescription medications including Benzodiazepines such as Valium and Diazepam.
  • Beta-blockers are used for lowering stress on the circulatory system.

Patients should consult their health care provider before taking any prescription medicines.

 

8. Prognosis of Illness Anxiety Disorder

Treatment with medication and psychotherapy works well for many patients with health anxiety. Patients are likely to have a good outcome if they respond well to these interventions.

When the condition is mild, the symptoms may last a short time. Symptoms of serious psychological distress can result in difficulty functioning, especially when there are coexisting mental disorders.

Is it possible to fully recover from a health anxiety disorder? Recently, studies suggest that most people with IAD can attain complete recovery even after a long life with the disease.

However, patients may become vulnerable to secondary depression and chronic stress resulting from constant anxiety if the symptoms remain untreated for a long period.

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The Takeaway

Illness Anxiety Disorder, originally known as hypochondriasis, is a mental health condition with physical symptoms.

It involves obsessive preoccupation about having or contracting a serious illness, to the point that the fears negatively impact daily functioning, work, and relationships.

IAD may be caused by early childhood trauma, genes, and mental health comorbidities, among other factors

You can manage or prevent health anxiety through approaches such as mindfulness, positive visualization, and relaxation.

Treatment options include mental health approaches (CBT, counseling, interpersonal therapy, art therapy) and pharmacological options (antidepressants, tricyclic prescriptions, and beta-blockers). Book your appointment to get yourself treated today!

 

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