Fear Of Illness (Hypochondria): Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

The fear of diseases or Hypochondria is the fear of suffering one or more diseases. Almost everyone is more or less afraid of disease. People with a strong fear of illness fear that they have a serious illness. It is often considered cancer, but also other serious diseases such as AIDS or Alzheimer’s disease . The term “hypochondria” is often used in reference to the clinical picture.

In general, it is very difficult for those affected to withdraw from their thoughts about these diseases. Many are captivated by these fears . They often only manage to experience relief through repeated visits to the doctor, searches of the specialized literature, or the involvement of other people, relief that is not usually permanent.

Anxious people cannot bear this fact and make a pilgrimage from doctor to doctor to expel a life-threatening illness. In psychotherapy you can learn to bear the residual risk of a possible illness and to return to a normal life. In an increasingly health-conscious society, more and more people are concerned about their physical well-being.

Most people calm down quickly if they are afraid of being seriously ill at first and are cleared after a full medical examination. For many people, however, health problems reach levels that control their lives and significantly impair their quality of life. They feel a strong pressure of suffering and their professional and social performance is affected. They distrust the public health system, pay expensive expert opinions, seek out the supposedly best doctors, and spend a lot of money on it.

Five percent of all family doctor patients are convinced that they have a life-threatening illness, so constant medical examinations of their harmless symptoms should avoid the alleged threat to life, “explains Dr. Hans Morschitzky, psychotherapist from Linz. This extreme fear of illness is commonly known as hypochondria. To be classified as such, anxiety must last at least six months and be present most days of the week.

You can also read: Fear of falling in love


  • Many hypochondriacs grow up in a stressful environment.
  • a family member is seriously ill or fears being ill.
  • The child grows up with this state of mind and takes charge of the fears.
  • “Or a serious illness is overlooked in the patient’s environment and the patient loses trust in doctors.
  • The same applies when you read in the newspaper about diseases that are overlooked, ”says the psychotherapist.

Harmless symptoms misinterpreted

  • Every healthy person has temporary physical symptoms. Headaches, nausea, or dizziness are the most common.
  • While such ailments are generally accepted as part of life, the carousel of thoughts begins to turn in people who are afraid of the disease.
  • You are misinterpreting the harmless symptoms.
  • The tension in the breast turns into a so-called heart attack, the headaches turn into a brain tumor, and the nausea turn into bowel cancer.

The most common diseases are cancer and brain tumors, strokes, heart attacks, Alzheimer’s disease, harmful environmental influences and diseases mediated by the media (AIDS, swine fever, bird flu, etc.).

Pathological fear of disease

  • Affected people constantly search their body for an overly anxious self-observation and interpret every little change as an expression of a life-threatening development.
  • Any harmless symptom, any mild pain could be a harbinger of a deadly disease.
  • “If fear of illness dominates life, if more and more visits to the doctor bring no relief, then there is a mental disorder,” says the Linz fear expert.
  • For example: If the risk of disease is 1 in 100,000, then you generally don’t think you can be affected. A hypochondriac, quite different.
  • He is sure that he is the one who is hitting. And you have to exclude this residual risk by going to your family doctor for an examination.
  • Expect negative results, but can only believe the doctor’s words, if at all, for a short time.

Medical odyssey

  • If the family doctor does not find anything worrisome during the examination of a hypochondriac patient, a specialist will be consulted.
  • If he also finds nothing, then the idea quickly comes up that these doctors are probably incapable and another specialist – if possible an expert in his field – is visited.
  • But that doesn’t help either. Any finding that excludes a disease only reinforces the feeling of incompetence of the medical profession.
  • An odyssey from one doctor to another begins.
  • “By constantly pushing for outpatient and hospital exams, they often cost the health system more than cancer.”


  • One difference from hypochondria is the fear of contracting a dangerous disease (disease phobia).
  • There are still no (harmless) symptoms, the fears are directed exclusively towards the future.
  • Those affected avoid anything that may cause concern or danger (they do not consume disease reports and avoid any visit to the doctor).


  • A significant treatment for this mental disorder consists of psychotherapy, in addition to the development of positive health behavior.
  • If the patient has developed additional depression as a result of hypochondria, antidepressants may also be necessary.


  • People with physical symptoms tend to suspect the cause only in the body. “At first, many vehemently resist the idea that psychological problems could be the cause,” says Morschitzky.
  • Only when they have moved from one doctor to another does an opening begin for some and psychotherapy is no longer excluded.
  • The psychotherapist advocates relatively short therapies. «10 to 15 sessions are usually enough for a significant improvement.
  • The goal of therapy is to overcome fears of illness and reduce them to a normal level.
  • The patient learns to change his way of thinking and to calm down. Learn to regain confidence in yourself and your body.
  • Learn to accept your existing harmless symptoms and not interpret anything in them.
  • It is also important to revive the joy and desire to live.
  • Many have not traveled for many years because they are afraid of not being able to cross it.
  • It is very important to see something new and participate in life.

Live healthier

  • It is also important that the affected person really change their way of life, that is, that they live healthier.
  • Many sick and anxious people are not healthy at all, they smoke and eat poorly and excessively.
  • Others have completely neglected their bodies, they do not move because they immediately feel any symptoms.

Include a family doctor

  • The fact that the patient is undergoing psychotherapeutic treatment does not mean that he should avoid any medical consultation with immediate effect.
  • The family doctor must be involved, so accompany the therapy.
  • It is important that you take the patient and their problems seriously.
  • Specifically, it is recommended that the affected person go to the doctor two to four times a year, at most, for the necessary physical exams.
  • It’s better to make fixed appointments in advance and avoid additional medical visits, psychotherapists say.

Well-being as a backdrop

People who are afraid of illness are not necessarily afraid of dying, but of witnessing their own serious illness. They fear dependency, powerlessness and that they may be a burden to the family. It is not selfishness but caring that is often behind fears, thoughts like:

  • I can’t be sick because I have to support the family or raise the children.
  • They must absolutely work, they must not fail.
  • The frequent accusation that these people are self-centered is generally wrong.

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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.

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