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What is Illness Anxiety Disorder?

Illness anxiety disorder is a newer diagnosis that applies to individuals who are preoccupied with being sick or with developing a disease of some kind. It is a variant of somatic symptom disorder (hypochondriasis). However, somatic symptoms are either not present or present to a mild degree. If another medical condition is present or if there is a high risk for developing a medical condition (e.g., strong family history is present) the preoccupation is clearly excessive.

A diagnosis for illness anxiety disorder also requires the following factors:

  • A high level of anxiety about one’s health with the individual easily alarmed about personal health status
  • Excessive health-related behaviors (e.g., repeatedly checks is or her body for signs of illness) or exhibits maladaptive avoidance (e.g., avoids doctor appointments and hospitals).
  • Illness-related preoccupation has been present for at least 6 months, but the feared illness may change over that period of time.
  • The illness-related preoccupation is not better explained by another mental disorder, such as somatic symptom disorder, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or delusional disorder, somatic type.

What are the treatments for Illness Anxiety Disorder?

As with somatic symptom disorder, patients with illness anxiety disorder often resist psychiatric treatment. However, they may accept therapy that focuses on stress reduction and education in coping with chronic illness. Group psychotherapy is often beneficial, in part because of the social support it provides. Other types of therapy that may be helpful include insight-oriented psychotherapy, behavior therapy, cognitive therapy, and hypnosis.

Pharmacotherapy may help alleviate the anxiety generated by the fear the patient has about illness, especially if it is one that is life-threatening.

Mental Health Library Sources:

Information included in all topics of the Mental Health Library comes from the Desk Reference to the Diagnostic Criteria From DSM-5 and Kaplan & Sadock’s Concise Textbook of Clinical Psychiatry. Complete diagnostic and treatment information may be found within these publications.


Information within the Mental Health Library is not intended to be used for self-diagnosis purposes. Rather, it is provided as a public educational service to make people aware of mental health conditions. Please consult a qualified mental health professional for a diagnosis of any suspected mental health illness.

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