Illness anxiety disorder

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As I got in I was almost in tears. I sat there and I was shaking and I couldn't breathe
—Stephanie Huynh, a woman with IAD[1]

Illness anxiety disorder (IAD), also called health anxiety,[2] somatic symptom disorder,[3] or hypochondria,[4] is a relatively common disorder in which a person worries excessively about their health. This sometimes can be classified as self-diagnosis, but that's sort of a grey area. This is a genuine mental illness that often causes constant suffering for those who have this illness.[5] They struggle with relationships, simple daily activities, and keeping a job.[5]

It shares similarities to obsessive-compulsive disorder.Wikipedia Sufferers have persistent fears of potential illnesses and compulsions. They often compulsively visit the doctor.[6] Approximately 75 to 85% of people with illness anxiety disorder have depression,Wikipedia anxiety,Wikipedia or another mental illness.[5]

This condition is often lifelong.[7]

Famous people with IAD include Andy Warhol, Marcel Proust, and Adolf Hitler.[8][9]

Symptoms of illness anxiety disorder[edit]

  • Worrying about one's health
  • Constantly checking one's body for signs of illness
  • Avoiding certain areas out of fear of infection
  • Frequent doctor visits due to fear of illness
  • Being alarmed about health test results
  • Compulsively researching symptoms
  • Not feeling better despite reassurance

In a cruel twist of fate, anxiety can cause mysterious symptoms like aches and pains, nausea, insomnia, dizziness, and more.[10] To someone with IAD, this might be evidence that they are dying, and medical test results are likely to be inconclusive about the cause. The anxiety causes physical symptoms, the physical symptoms cause anxiety, and the vicious cycle continues.[note 1]

People with IAD may hop from doctor to doctor, constantly fearing that their symptoms may be a terrible disease that has been overlooked by everyone else. Or they may avoid visiting the doctor for fear of getting terrible news.[11]


Causes of IAD include:[12]

  • Child abuse
  • Severe stress
  • Illness or death of a loved one[11]
  • Other mental illnesses
  • History of illness in childhood

It appears that people in their 20s are particularly susceptible.[13]


Once IAD has been identified, treatment can provide some relief. Options include:


"Cyberchondria" is caused by looking up diseases and symptoms on the internet. People may mistake symptoms of a mild problem for a severe problem, such as thinking that a stress headache is actually cancer.

Research has shown that people who google their symptoms commonly take the result that comes up first in the search engine as the most probable cause, despite the fact that this is not even slightly how search engines work.[15]

And the healthcare system[edit]

This disorder poses obvious problems for any healthcare system. They consume time for healthcare professionals, with frequent visits to GPs and specialists, and often prove to be difficult patients: they are more likely to be more demanding of and dissatisfied with their physician, but also to be more help-rejecting.[16]

Estimates of the cost of IAD vary widely. In the US, the figure of $20 billion per year is often used, going back to the early 2000s.[17][18] In 2017 it was reported that IAD could cost the British National Health Service £56 million per year.[19] Research in the UK has shown that 25%-50% of patients visiting their GPs may have unexplained pain or other unexplained symptoms.[20]

This illustrates the importance of proper treatment for people with IAD: instead of constantly visiting the doctor about (often psychosomatic) symptoms, they should get appropriate anxiety treatment to help fight back against their habitual worrying.

Alternative medicine[edit]

Some practitioners of alternative medicine recommend marijuana as a treatment.[21] Marijuana has also been recommended for other anxiety-related conditions, but without any evidence from clinical trials.[22] Bamboo shavings are also suggested as a herbal cure.[21] Bamboo may be useful if you are a panda,Wikipedia but its impact on humans isn't so clear.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Is it possible to think yourself sick? SBS
  2. [1] NHS Choices
  3. Hypochondria: What is illness anxiety disorder?, Medical News Today, 24 July 2017
  4. DSM-5 redefines hypochondriasis Mayo Clinic
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 Hypochondriasis University of Maryland Medical Center
  6. Hypochondriasis Harvard Health Publications
  7. Illness anxiety disorder Medline Plus Gov
  8. Adolf Hitler's medical care, Doyle, D, J R Coll Physicians Edinb. 2005 Feb;35(1):75-82.
  9. Confessions of a hypochondriac, Louise Carpenter, The Guardian, 17 Jan 2010
  10. Psychosomatic Symptoms - Psychology Today
  11. 11.0 11.1 Hypochondriacs can worry themselves sick - San Diego Union-Tribune
  12. Hypochondriasis Cleveland Clinic
  13. Hypochondriasis, Penn State Hershey Medical Center
  14. 14.0 14.1 Health Check: how do you know if you’re obsessed with your health? The Conversation
  15. Cyberchondria: How the Internet Is Making Us Paranoid About Health, Richard C Senelick, Huffington Post, 2011
  16. Hypochondriacal attitudes and beliefs, attitudes towards complementary and alternative medicine and modern health worries predict patient satisfaction, Sofia Fionda and Adrian Furnham, JRSM Open. 2014 Nov; 5(11): 2054270414551659.
  17. Sick With Worry, The New Yorker, 11 Aug 2003
  18. When illness is imaginary, it's entirely a different case, LA Times, 20 Jan 2003
  19. 'Cyberchondria' costs the UK health service £56m a year, Medical Express, Sept 2017
  20. All in the Mind, The Independent, 12 August 2008
  21. 21.0 21.1 Hypochondria, Herbpathy
  22. Medical Marijuana for Psychiatric Disorders, Psychology Today


  1. See also our article on the placebo effect, which is probably related to this phenomenon.