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illness anxiety disorder

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Hypochondria is an outdated and stigmatizing term for illness anxiety disorder (IAD). Although many use hypochondria as a joke or insult, health-related anxiety can be a clinical diagnosis.

Illness anxiety can cause a level of apprehension that far exceeds the situation. People with IAD often have a deep, at times overwhelming, fear of developing a serious illness. They may compulsively check their bodies for any sign of difficulty, and any perceived irregularity can set off a spiral of worst-case scenarios. Even reassurance from loved ones or health professionals may not reduce negative thinking for long. This anxiety can last for months or years, and can interferes with their ability to go about everyday life.

There are many stereotypes about IAD. People with illness anxiety may be accused of being self-absorbed, seeking attention, or malingering. These stereotypes unfairly blame the person for their condition. 

In addition, it is common for medical professionals to dismiss the concerns of people who have rare or complicated health conditions, leading to delays in necessary treatment. Individuals may be told that their issues are due to anxiety or be accused of seeking drugs. This is especially true for chronic pain conditions. Myalgic encephalomyelitis or chronic fatigue syndrome is one example of a condition that has historically not been taken seriously by some health care providers, and is now being investigated for possible ties to infection, immune system changes, and genetic links. Racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, and sizeism can make discrimination and misunderstanding even more likely.

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Illness anxiety disorder is characterized by severe, persistent worry over developing a serious health condition. The term “hypochondria” might be more familiar, but that term is outdated and can be stigmatizing. Keep in mind that racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, and sizeism can make it more likely for medical professionals to dismiss someone’s health concerns as health anxiety.