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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 ISD[1]

Illness anxiety disorder (ISD), 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's W.svg 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, anxiety or another mental illness.[5]

This condition is often lifelong.[7]

Famous hypochondriacs include Andy Warhol, Marcel Proust, and Adolf Hitler.[8][9]

Symptoms of illness anxiety disorder[edit]

  • Worrying about your health condition
  • Frequently visiting the doctor in order to find out if you're ill
  • Avoiding certain areas out of fear of infection
  • Being alarmed about health test results
  • Compulsively googling symptoms
  • Reassurance is ineffective at reducing anxiety about health concerns


It appears that people in their 20s are particularly susceptible.[11]



Cyberchondria is a term for hypochondria caused by looking up diseases and symptoms on the internet. Part of the problem is that doctors are able to look at a symptom such as a sore head and consider how likely it is to have a fatal versus a minor cause - if you have a sore head, your doctor will recognise that it's almost certainly just a headache not brain cancer. In contrast a study 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.[13]

And the healthcare system[edit]

Hypochondriacs pose 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.[14]

Estimates of the cost of hypochondria vary widely. In the US, the figure of $20 billion per year is often used, going back to the early 2000s.[15][16] In 2017 it was reported that hypochondria could cost the British National Health Service £56 million per year.[17] Research in the UK has shown that 25%-50% of patients visiting their GPs may have unexplained pain or other unexplained symptoms.[18]

Alternative medicine[edit]

Some practitioners of alternative medicine recommend marijuana as a treatment.[19] Marijuana has also been recommended for other anxiety-related conditions, but without any evidence from clinical trials.[20] Bamboo shavings are also suggested as a herbal cure.[19] Bamboo may be useful if you are a panda, although the endangered, sex-shy panda is perhaps not the model of the healthy, well-balanced animal.

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. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Hypochondriasis Cleveland Clinic
  11. Hypochondriasis, Penn State Hershey Medical Center
  12. 12.0 12.1 Health Check: how do you know if you’re obsessed with your health? The Conversation
  13. Cyberchondria: How the Internet Is Making Us Paranoid About Health, Richard C Senelick, Huffington Post, 2011
  14. 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.
  15. Sick With Worry, The New Yorker, 11 Aug 2003
  16. When illness is imaginary, it's entirely a different case, LA Times, 20 Jan 2003
  17. 'Cyberchondria' costs the UK health service £56m a year, Medical Express, Sept 2017
  18. All in the Mind, The Independent, 12 August 2008
  19. 19.0 19.1 Hypochondria, Herbpathy
  20. Medical Marijuana for Psychiatric Disorders, Psychology Today