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What Is Nosophobia?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on May 18, 2021

The persistent fear of getting an illness is known as nosophobia. It’s an extremely rare condition. This disorder will usually start in early adulthood. But any age or gender can develop this condition. Nosophobia is more commonly known as an illness anxiety disorder. 

Understanding Nosophobia

Nosophobia, or illness anxiety disorder, is an uncontrollable and persistent fear of having a serious medical condition. This disorder was also once known as hypochondriasis but has since been changed. If you have this condition, you’re easily worried about any changes in your body. 

You might feel something new to your body, and see it as a sign of illness. Often, if you have an illness anxiety disorder, you may think the illness you have is serious. 

Having an illness anxiety disorder causes you to hyperfocus on an uncomfortable or unusual feeling in your body.

Some symptoms include: 

  • Overwhelming thoughts about having or getting a serious disease or health problem
  • Worrying about minor symptoms or feelings in your body
  • Getting alarmed easily over your health
  • Not feeling reassured from doctors visits or negative test results
  • Persistent worry about getting a certain medical condition that runs in your family
  • Difficulty functioning due to worry about an illness or condition
  • Frequent doctors visits or appointments for reassurance
  • Fear or avoidance of medical care and serious diagnosis
  • Avoiding things for fear of contracting an illness
  • Constantly thinking about and talking about your health and potential problems
  • Frequent internet searches for causes of symptoms or possible illnesses

If you have this condition, you won’t be able to control how you feel. Your fear of getting an illness or medical condition is a very serious and real fear. 

Causes of Nosophobia

There’s not an exact cause of nosophobia, but there are some factors that might make you more likely to develop it. 

Family history. If you have a parent or someone in your family that worried a lot about their health, you’re more likely to feel the same way. You could develop their sense of anxiety about your own health. 

Uncertainty about feelings. Having a lot of different bodily feelings might concern you. You may feel uncertain about what’s a normal feeling and what’s something to worry about. This will lead to you worrying about every big or small sensation in your body.

Past experience. If you or a close family member had a serious medical condition when you were younger, you may develop a fear. A serious childhood illness might make you afraid to feel those symptoms again. This can make any feelings a concern to you. 

How is Somatic Symptom Disorder Different?

A similar mental health condition to illness anxiety disorder is somatic symptom disorder. With this condition, you may feel the same constant worry and feelings. However, you’ll also have real symptoms like pain, weakness, or shortness of breath. This can cause actual distress to your body. 

When your body has these symptoms, you might worry they signal a serious illness. However, the symptoms are being caused by somatic symptom disorder.

With somatic symptom disorder, you may have a constant worry about your symptoms. But when you get medically tested, nothing will show up as the cause of the physical symptom. 

The difference between the two disorders is that somatic symptom disorder is a psychiatric condition where you feel the physical, persistent symptoms. You have anxiety around the cause of the physical symptoms. Illness anxiety disorder revolves around the fear of catching an illness or health condition. You don’t feel physical symptoms with this disorder. 

Diagnosing Nosophobia

To be diagnosed with an illness anxiety disorder, the American Psychiatric Association laid out criteria that will determine if you have it. Your doctor will refer you to a behavioral health specialist to then get diagnosed. 

The criteria for diagnosing illness anxiety disorder are:

  • Excessive worry about having or getting a life-threatening illness or condition
  • There are no somatic symptoms present
  • Much concern and anxiety about health-related issues
  • Repetitive and persistent checking of your body for signs of disease
  • You’ve had these symptoms for 6 months or longer
  • There are no other more significant psychiatric conditions present

Treatment for Nosophobia

After you’ve been diagnosed with nosophobia, the first option for treatment is psychotherapy. A type of psychotherapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is used to treat your cognitive beliefs. Your therapist will teach you behavioral modification strategies.

You’ll also learn about normal bodily sensations and their typical variations. This is designed to relax your fears of new feelings in your body. 

Depending on the severity of your disorder, your doctor may prescribe medication. These medications could include antidepressants

If you feel like your anxiety is beyond your control, you can talk to your doctor or mental health professional. When managing illness anxiety disorder at home, you can learn how to be mindful of your stress and coping mechanisms. Understanding how stress affects your life and physical body can help you know when to start using your management skills. 

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Psychiatry Association: “What Is Somatic Symptom Disorder?”

Cleveland Clinic: “Illness Anxiety Disorder (Hypochondria, Hypochondriasis).”

French, J., Hameed, S. StatPearls: Illness Anxiety Disorder. StatPearls Publishing, 2021.

Harvard Health Publishing: “Illness Anxiety Disorder.”

Mayo Clinic: “Illness anxiety disorder.”

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