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Illness Anxiety Disorder
"Anxiety disorder is a mental illness that can have a devastating impact on individuals and their families. It is a condition that is often misunderstood and very difficult to treat. However, with the right treatment and support, individuals with anxiety disorder can lead full and productive lives. Anxiety can be due to a variety of factors. Like, Exams, presentations, Social events, Work, Lack of confidence in one's ability, Perfectionism, etc., it is a common sensation that everyone feels from time to time.
Nevertheless, for some, it can become a chronic, overwhelming feeling that can interfere with daily life. It is termed generalized anxiety disorder(GAD). It is an anxiety disorder characterized by persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worry about everyday things. People with GAD often feel tired, have trouble concentrating, and may have physical symptoms such as muscle tension or gastrointestinal problems. Anxiety disorders can manifest themselves in a variety of ways:
What is Illness Anxiety Disorder (IAD)?
"Illness anxiety disorder (IAD), formerly known as hypochondriasis, is a syndrome characterized by an overwhelming worry of having a catastrophic medical illness despite having little or no symptoms." The term hypochondriasis has been removed from the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The term hypochondria was removed from the DSM-5 since it carries negative connotations and is stigmatizing. Therefore, most persons who were formerly diagnosed with hypochondria now are diagnosed as having:
- An illness anxiety disorder is an individual experiencing mild to none or just moderate physical symptoms.
- Somatic symptom disorder is an individual feeling distressed or having multiple symptoms.
While it is normal to feel some anxiety about health issues, people with illness anxiety disorder experience excessive and irrational fear and worry about their health, to the point where it significantly interferes with their daily life. They may also go to great lengths to avoid activities or places that they believe could potentially lead them to contract an illness. People suffering from this disorder cannot control the symptoms and may believe they have a serious disease, even when tests and doctors say otherwise.
Living with Illness Anxiety Disorder
Individuals with IAD may experience difficulty in organizing their thoughts and actions or may have difficulty regulating emotions. They may be apathetic or show a constant need for stimulation. Often, people with IAD are hyperactive and impulsive. The cause of illness anxiety disorder is not fully understood, but it is thought to be a combination of psychological and biological factors. Some people may be predisposed to health anxiety due to a family history of anxiety disorders or other mental health disorders (genetics), as some individuals have difficulty tolerating uncertainty over uncomfortable or unusual body sensations or brain chemistry. Others may develop the disorder due to a traumatic incident, such as the death of a loved one due to a disease or a serious illness.
Common symptoms include
- Excessive worry about having a serious illness.
- Excessive concern about the health of family and friends.
- Visits to doctors or other health professionals regularly.
- Excessive use of the internet or other sources of health information.
- Obsessive thoughts about health and disease.
- Preoccupation with the appearance of the body.
- Obsession with physiological functions such as breathing rate and heartbeat.
- Excessive sharing of their symptoms and medical status with others.
- Extreme sensitivity to environmental factors.
- Constant fatigue.
- Feeling out of control.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Social isolation.
- Depression or anxiety.
Classification of Symptoms
These symptoms can be categorized into three categories:
Course of Treatment
Illness anxiety disorder is a mental health issue marked by an excessive and illogical dread of becoming ill. When left untreated, it can harm a person's life. For instance, it can lead to problems with work, social relationships, etc. Treatment aims to improve the overall quality of life by reducing symptoms. Treatment options include:
- When psychotherapy alone does not seem beneficial to some, psychiatrists may suggest medications and therapy help faster recovery.
- This disorder is usually treated with antidepressant medications that can help people feel less nervous and depressed, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Psychotherapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy, is the most commonly used treatment for illness anxiety disorder. Because it teaches individuals skills to help them manage their disease, CBT can be quite successful in treating illness anxiety disorder. CBT has the following advantages:
- Recognizing one's illness, anxiety concerns, and beliefs
- Learning to look at one's body sensations in new ways by changing unwanted thoughts
- Increasing one’s awareness of how one’s worries affect them and their behavior
- Responding differently to their body sensations and symptoms
Other coping mechanisms, such as mindfulness exercises or relaxation techniques, can be used. The most effective way to cure illness anxiety disorder is to treat the disorder's underlying cause, which is usually a traumatic experience in childhood where the sufferer feels powerless and vulnerable.
"Illness anxiety disorder (IAD), formerly known as hypochondriasis, is a syndrome characterized by an overwhelming worry of having a catastrophic medical illness despite having little or no symptoms.
People with illness anxiety disorder spend much time online researching medical conditions and visiting doctors' offices for checkups even when they are healthy. Some may be predisposed to illness anxiety due to a family history of mental health disorders, beliefs as some individuals have difficulty tolerating uncertainty over uncomfortable or unusual body sensations, etc. Others may develop after a traumatic event. People with an illness anxiety disorder may also experience intrusive thoughts about death or dying. Treatment aims to improve the overall quality of life by reducing symptoms. It consists of Medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two and other coping mechanisms. When suffering from an illness anxiety disorder, it is important to consult a professional at the earliest to avoid any further complications.
- Ronald J. Comer. Abnormal Psychology Eighth edition book.
- Jennifer H. French; Sajid Hameed. Illness anxiety disorder (URL - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554399/ )
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