What Is Nosophobia?
Nosophobia, or illness anxiety disorder, is an uncontrollable and persistent fear of having a serious medical condition. It’s an extremely rare condition. This disorder will usually start in early adulthood. But any age or gender can develop this condition.
Causes of Nosophobia:
There are various possible causes for the development of nosophobia. Like environmental factors, and personal history. Here are some of the most common causes of nosophobia:
- Past sicknesses can lead someone to develop nosophobia later on in life. For example, someone who was seriously ill at one point in childhood might develop intense anxiety about getting sick as an adult.
- People with other mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), are more likely to develop an intense fear of getting sick than the general public.
- Exposure to news stories or other media about current widespread health problems, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, can trigger anxiety in some people and cause them to develop nosophobia.
- There is some evidence that medical students, researchers, and others who spend a lot of time reading about various diseases for work or school might develop greater anxiety about their own health.
The main symptom of nosophobia is significant fear and anxiety around developing a disease, usually a well-known and potentially life-threatening one, such as cancer, heart disease, or HIV.
This worry tends to persist even after healthcare providers examine you. You might feel the urge to see your doctor frequently for exams or tests, even if they’ve already given you a clean bill of health.
This intense fear and anxiety can result in physical symptoms, including:
- increased pulse
- rapid breathing
- trouble sleeping
Nosophobia also involves avoidance. You may not want to know anything at all about the disease. Hearing about it in the news or from others may trigger distress.
- Exposure to high levels of media coverage about the disease and the risks of contracting diseases
- Having suffered traumatic health problems in the past
- Repeated exposure to people with serious illnesses
Nosophobia is a type of specific phobia and appears to be more common among students and researchers who spend a great deal of time reading about specific diseases.
If you’re concerned that your anxiety about diseases might be a phobia, make an appointment with your healthcare provider. They can refer you to a specialist who has experience diagnosing and treating phobias.
While specific phobias don’t always require treatment, nosophobia can involve a fear of going anywhere you might be exposed to a certain disease. This can make it difficult to work, go to school, or take care of other needs.
Therapy can be very helpful for specific phobias. The two main types of therapy used are exposure therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy.
- Exposure therapy: This approach exposes you to what you’re afraid of in the safe environment of therapy. Your therapist will start by helping you develop tools to deal with the anxiety and distress that comes up when you think about a disease, such as meditation or relaxation techniques.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): Another helpful therapy is CBT. Though your therapist may incorporate a level of exposure into therapy, CBT primarily focuses on teaching you to recognize and challenge irrational thoughts and fears.
- Medication: While there’s no medication that specifically treats specific phobias, certain drugs can reduce symptoms of fear and anxiety and maybe helpful when used along with therapy.
A prescriber may prescribe beta-blockers or benzodiazepines for short-term or occasional use:
- Beta-blockers help decrease physical symptoms of anxiety. For example, they can help you maintain a steady heart rate and keep your blood pressure from rising.
- Benzodiazepines are a type of sedative that can help with anxiety symptoms. They can be addictive, so they’re not meant to be used for a long time.
In addition to mental health treatment, there are other coping methods that can help you manage your intense fear of getting sick. These methods may include:
- Relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques can help you manage your anxiety when panic sets in.
- Mindfulness techniques: Try to stay grounded and present with mindfulness techniques like yoga, walking, and meditation.
- Exercise and nutrition. Exercise regularly, and make sure you’re eating a balanced diet with all the vitamins and nutrients you need.
- Good sleep habits: If you have insomnia due to your fear of getting sick, try practicing healthy sleep habits. A good night’s sleep can also help you manage your anxiety during the day. 6
- Support groups: Talking to others with similar fears can help you find support, perspective, and valuable advice.
Fearing disease is natural, especially with all the information that’s now available about different diseases online.
If your concern about illness focuses on a specific disease and begins to affect your daily life, emotional health, or your ability to function as you usually would consider reaching out to your healthcare provider. Living with extreme fear isn’t easy, but phobias are very treatable.