What is Illness Anxiety Disorder?
Illness anxiety disorder is a phobia of suffering from severe medical illness. A person suffering from Illness Anxiety Disorder stays extra health conscious and does more than necessary. For them, little signs like normal coughing, skin rashes, mild fever, cold, body pain, sweating, and indigestion could be alarming. They stress extra over the tiny signals, physical ups and downs and treat them as a sign of life-threatening disease.
In mild cases, Illness Anxiety Disorder is all about paying extra attention to the body. Where else in severe cases, it is more than that because patient suffering from this disease always seeks for medical assurance. Statements like ‘Nothing is wrong with your body or you are completely healthy’ don’t work in their favour. They always want to hear about their imaginary disease.
In serious cases, the patient keeps changing doctors and search for the one who confirms the doubted disease. In these cases, medical assurance doesn’t last for a longer period of time. This issue is kind of similar to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
Despite the serious outcomes, there are a number of therapies that can help the patient. Illness anxiety disorder can be treated easily without investing a lot in medical treatments.
Illness Anxiety Disorder Treatment
There are various ways to treat Illness Anxiety Disorder but the main goal is to control the patient’s fear. The main aim of this treatment is to eliminate the stress and discomfort that often leads them to the doctor.
CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and ERP (Exposer Response Prevention) are the most effective Illness Anxiety Disorder Treatment. They are way more potent if combined together as ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy).
How CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) Works as a Treatment
According to the concept of CBT, patient’s thoughts, emotions, physical reactions respond to each other. That’s why if the thought process takes the negative turn then it can trap the person into this disease. This process Cognitive Behavioural Therapy observes the thought process keenly and breaks them into little parts. In this therapy, the doctor concentrates more on present issues and the patient’s emotions. The aim of this therapy is to make the person emotionally and mentally stable about their physical condition. CBT therapist teaches the patient how to change these negative thoughts into positive ones.
In this session, the patient is likely to meet the doctor once or twice a week if the case is severe. However, the number of the visit goes down in mild cases. Usually, there are 5 to 20 sessions in CBT treatment. Each therapy session lasts for 30 to 60 minutes.
During the CBT session, the therapist monitors the behavioral changes, thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions of the patient. Then they break down the problems into parts realistic and unrealistic issues. Therapist trains the patient’s mind and tries to eliminate the fear. They eradicate the unusual worries and turn the patient’s mind in a positive direction. That’s how this process works however it is not suitable for all kind of patients. It can have its own side effects.
How ERP (Exposer Response Prevention) Works as a Treatment
Exposer Response Prevention Therapy motivates the patient to face their fears and advises not to curb the obsessive thoughts. In fact, ERP therapist encourages the patient to think about their obsessive thoughts and then not to worry about it. It is more like pushing the hydrophobic into a river and then encourages them to come out of it.
In ERP Flooding treatment often cure Illness Anxiety Disorder. In this therapy, the patients suffering from Illness Anxiety Disorder comes in front of their worst fears. The therapist put them under such situations where they encounter their fears. Then they tell them to be in that situation until their anxiety reduces to some extent.
Although, Exposer Response Prevention have side-effects. Sometimes the exercises are too hard to perform or sometimes patients get stuck in a particular task. It is a great therapy for people with high determination but not recommended for low will power patients. That’s why the third therapy ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) comes into the picture. It is a fusion of CBT and ERP and works to their methods.
How ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) Works
ACT originated from its parent therapy CBT. In this therapy, patients stop ignoring and denying their disorder. They accept and respond to the treatment. Doctors teach them to accept their issues and told them to commit to their treatment. This therapy involves both accepting and encountering fears. Then the therapist applies the various tricks to pull the patient out of the disorder. All these exercises are kind of similar to ERP but less crucial. That’s why it’s a mixture of CBT and ERP.
Illness Anxiety Disorder Assessment
For Illness Anxiety Disorder Assessment, doctors often suspect over-anxious patients. They notice the signs of worry like sweating, fiddling, shivering etc. They also evaluate patients suffering from depression and other mental disorders.
They confirm the disorder when the patient continues to stress about his or her health for more than 6 months. Despite being assured several times.
Illness Anxiety Disorder Causes
The accurate causes of this disorder are unknown but these circumstances play a key role in occurrence.
Our beliefs lead and control our mind and this term is correct for this disorder too. These types of patients are less tolerant of their unusual body sensations and mild issues. Their mind tricks them to believe that all the body sensations are serious or they are suffering from a life-threatening disease. They dwell more upon the little signs and end up having this disorder.
Past Experiences can also lead to this disorder. If you had any rash experience in past or you suffered a serious disease in childhood then the fear of suffering it again can overpower your mind.
You are likely to be diagnosed with this disorder if someone from your family had it in them. Or your parents worried too much about their health
Illness Anxiety Disorder Case Study
The anxiety of having a serious disease often surrounds the patient. You can understand it more with the help of this Illness Anxiety Disorder Case Study.
There was a Saudi Man who spent 1,70,000$ over his doubts and fears. He was 73 years old and started visiting doctors 25 years ago due to his cancer phobia. He noticed mild symptoms in his body, developed the belief inside his mind and started visiting the primary health care center. During the process, he went through various worthless laboratory tests and after a series of test he was found negative. He didn’t have a single disease in his body. His doctor assured him multiple times but he didn’t buy it as he worried a lot about his imaginary disease.
He continued to change his doctor until his family doctor found the root cause of his problem. 5 years before, his family doctor who studied his case keenly discovered his disorder. The doctor changed the course of his treatment and performed various experiments to monitor his condition. Then, in the end, the doctor treated him with the help of CBT (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy). It reduced his Hypochondriacal beliefs and brought him back into the real world.
It was an example of serious Illness Anxiety Disorder because the patient passed the early stage. IAD is curable if diagnosed on the early stage otherwise it troubles the patient till no end.
Illness Anxiety Disorder vs Somatic Symptom Disorder
The difference between Illness Anxiety Disorder and Somatic Symptom Disorder is quite subtle and hard to find. Though, it can be measured if noticed properly.
Usually in Somatic Symptom Disorder patient often encounter the symptoms. They experience mild physical symptoms but develop a negative thought process and overstress their brain. This anxiety turns into fears that meddle with their daily life. These reactions can disrupt a patient’s daily life and he or she might suffer depression because of it.
But in SSD symptoms do exist. Here the pain and fatigue are real. These symptoms in the body appear and disappear due to a different kind of presence in the human immune system. All the patients react differently to it. In some cases, they could be mild, in some severe. These body sensations are normal symptoms like aches, fever, cough, fatigue, indigestion etc. But in SSD, there is no disease present in the body but the fear of them. This fear tricks the patient and result in SSD.
Where else in IAD, the patient is extremely obsessed with having or getting a disease. They start worrying about their health even if there no symptoms present in their body. They often fear sweating, blotting, digestive sounds, heartbeats etc. That’s why Illness Anxiety Disorder is more hazardous than Somatic Symptom Disorder.
Healthy Anxiety Symptoms Seem so Real
In Healthy Anxiety, the patient misunderstands normal physical sensations as lethal. A health body shows all types of physical symptoms and sometimes they could be painful like cold, cough, tiredness, fatigue, body ache, sweating etc. But that does mean that the person is unhealthy. These symptoms are completely natural and normal. There is nothing to worry about it. A patient with Healthy Anxiety Disorder overestimates the danger and believes that any discomfort is a sign of a deadly disease.
That’s why people that have Healthy Anxiety Symptoms spent hours on internet researching about a particular disease or overall health information. People with health anxiety often exaggerate the symptoms. They imagine getting a grave disease such as HIV, Cancer, Tumor, and Dementia etc. They also worry about a particular body part like the heart, brain, backbone, respiratory systems, kidney or lungs.
Can a Hypochondriac Make Themselves Feel Symptoms?
Hypochondriac can make themselves feel symptoms or even generate symptoms in their body. It is completely possible for the patient suffering from Hypochondriac to imagine symptoms or produce a one.
These things often lead to production:
- Frequently measuring body and stressing over it
- Taking unnecessary and extra rest for improvement and recovery
- Extreme stress or fear about getting a certain disease
- False alarms and panic attack
- Cyberchondria, unlimited health research on the internet
- Not trusting the doctor’s opinion and advise
- Frequently changing doctors
- Thinking about the disease after reading or hearing about it
- Refusing to visit a doctor out of fear
- Worrying about physical health but ignoring the mental health
- Panicking over the minor symptoms or physical sensations
All these things may create a few symptoms in the body due to pressure and stress. And sometimes these symptoms are nothing but an illusion.
What triggers Illness Anxiety Disorder?
Phobia, extra stress, genetics, past experience, childhood abuses, past diseases can very easily trigger Illness Anxiety Disorder.
What are the Prescribed Medicines for Treating Illness Anxiety Disorder?
Antidepressants and tablets like serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) and other tablets that are used to cure depression and mental disorders are the prescribed medicine for treating Illness Anxiety Disorder.
Is Illness Anxiety Disorder a life-threatening disease?
No, usually not but the result of this disorder fluctuates a lot. Its treatments usually depend on the patient and the doctor. It may increase with age but if diagnosed at an early stage then it has a high recovery rate.
Can we Treat Illness Anxiety Disorder at Home?
No, we cannot treat it at home. Remedies don’t work in this case though determination and willpower can help still seek for the therapist’s help. This disorder could be lethal if not treated properly that’s why the help of a therapist is a must.
How can I diagnose Illness Anxiety Disorder?
If you imagine having a disease, dying the next day, waste your hours on the internet researching about medical terms. If you fear cough, cold, fever, ankle sprain, heartbeats, blotting sound then you should visit a therapist because all these things are signs of IAD.