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Illness Anxiety Disorder

March 13, 2019

What Is It?

Illness anxiety disorder is a persistent fear of having a grave medical illness. A person with this disorder pays excessive attention to health. He or she can become easily alarmed by anything that might be interpreted as a sign of illness, including normal sensations, bodily functions and mild symptoms. For them, such experiences may signal an illness with a grim outcome. For example, a person may fear that the normal sounds of digestion, sweating or a mark on the skin may be indicators of life-threatening disease.

Terminology has changed for disorders of this type. The field has moved away from using the word “hypochondriasis,” because it is a demeaning term. The word “somatization” has been replaced by “somatic symptoms.” It seems like a small difference but the change acknowledges that the person’s physical (i.e., somatic) symptoms are real.

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