Illness Anxiety Disorder: What If?

Illness Anxiety Disorder: What If?

You are sitting down in your art history class and everything is as it always is. The professor is greeting the class and all the students, including you, look bored as usual. Staring down at the desk, you see an ant crawling across it. As you swipe your hand to brush it off the desk,, the ant bites you. Throughout the lecture, you cannot get the idea of the ant still crawling on you off of your mind. The mere thought of the ant still being alive and able to bite you again is bothering you in such a way that you cannot focus on the professor anymore. Knowing the bite is not poisonous, you redouble your efforts to focus and listen to the lecture. You look around on the top and bottom of the desks, as well as the seats next to you. You don’t see the ant, but you are afraid now that the damage has already been done. You feel the bite might be getting worse and wonder if the ant was poisonous. What if it starts to swell? What if it becomes infected? What if the infection spreads and you lose your hand?! Not able to take the intruding thoughts anymore, you rush to the bathroom to check and see exactly how your finger is after the bite.

This student is experiencing Illness Anxiety Disorder. Another, more commonly known name for this disorder, is Hypochondriasis (Mayo Clinic, 2018). This disorder, though it’s own entity, is heightened if you are experiencing or have had Somatic Symptoms Disorder (SSD), or disorders similar to SSD. “Illness Anxiety Disorder is when a person becomes preoccupied with having an illness or getting an illness, constantly thinking about their health.” They may continuously check for signs of illness and take extreme measures of precaution in order to prevent further risk(s). Hypochondriasis primarily distinguishes itself from SSD when the person is not experiencing symptoms such as excessive pain (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). “Physical symptoms are not present or if present, only mild. If another illness is present, or there is a high risk for developing an illness, the person’s concern is out of proportion” (Cleveland Clinic, 2015). Although IAD and SSD are two separate disorders, they are similar in their treatment processes. The similarity of these treatment plans is extremely convenient, because if you are treating one, then you are also partially treating the other, which is significant when one individual has both disorders. Additionally, understanding the steps necessary to find a solution for one disorder can make resolving the other disorder less intimidating. Having a basis from which to start can make all the difference and lead to a quicker return to one’s norm. 

Treatment of Illness Anxiety Disorder is very similar to SSD and can be comorbid with SSD. This is common between co-occurring disorders. Making an appointment with one’s primary care doctor is a great way to start. Go to regular check-ups, and for further assistance, find a trustworthy counselor to confide in. A reliable counselor will not only validate one’s feelings, but also disprove any worries at the same time. Resolving these constant and extreme fear of threats drastically improves an individual’s functionality and betters their quality of life. (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).




American Psychiatric Association. Illness Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved October 6, 2019, from, 


Cleveland Clinic. Illness Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved October 10, 2019, from, 

Mayo Clinic. Hypochondriasis. Retrieved October 6, 2019, from, 

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