Illness Anxiety Disorder (F45.21.)

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.


Acute or Chronic Illness?
Photo courtesy of

What is Illness Anxiety Disorder?

Illness Anxiety Disorder is a condition in which the patient is preoccupied with the idea that they have or will get a physical illness. The person with Illness Anxiety Disorder may have no physical symptoms, or the symptoms that have could be relatively mild. The concern they have is not about the symptoms, but it is about their worry that they might have or be developing an illness. In the past, this condition was included as part of the Somatization Disorder, but the symptoms are sufficiently distinct that in the DSM-5 it was listed separately.

People with Illness Anxiety Disorder have high anxiety about their health. They can be easily alarmed by very small changes in their health status. The smallest symptom will convince them they are developing a serious, possibly fatal, disease.

The possibility of an illness takes over their lives.

People with Illness Anxiety Disorder spend a lot of time looking for symptoms. They may do a lot of self-exams, or have large numbers of laboratory tests performed. They often see multiple doctors to get second opinions. Even when reassured that there is nothing seriously wrong with them they convinced themselves that the doctor had missed something. They find it impossible to believe there is nothing wrong with them and may complain that the doctor didn’t care and did nothing to help them.

Illness Anxiety Disorder is not a short-term condition. To meet criteria for this condition the patient must have had symptoms for at least six months or more. Most people have symptoms for much longer time periods, though during these times the particular condition they are concerned about may keep changing.

Illness Anxiety Disorder seriously affects people’s lives.

People with this condition spend a lot of time talking about their illness or illnesses. Their ill-health becomes their principal topic of conversation. Their limited focus on illness damages relationships. The belief that they are will become sick turns them into invalids, afraid to be active or leave the house.

Medical treatment becomes their primary focus.

Considerable time can be spent visiting various doctors and specialists and having tests run and rerun. Despite reassurance from doctors that there is nothing wrong with them or that their condition is not serious, these patients continue to believe they are becoming seriously ill. In older adults, the primary concern may be memory loss. Despite reassurances that some forgetting is normal, they may worry that having forgotten something means they are developing Alzheimer’s or dementia.

As this condition progresses, they may spend considerable time on the Internet reading about and researching their perceived symptoms.

Triggers for developing Illness Anxiety Disorder.

Hearing about someone falling ill and developing a rare medical condition is a common trigger for Illness Anxiety Disorder. Reading articles or news stories about medical conditions increase the risk of developing Illness Anxiety Disorder.

Illness anxiety disorder comes in two types.

  1. Care seeking.

This type is largely seen in medical settings where they are likely to have accumulated thick files, had many tests, and have been prescribed a significant number of medications.

  1. Care avoidance.

Despite considerable worry and personal research on the possibility they have or are contracting a serious illness, care avoidance types avoid doctors who might confirm their fears.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at

1 thought on “Illness Anxiety Disorder (F45.21.)

  1. Pingback: Could your overthinking be an illness? | counselorssoapbox

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.