Nosophobia or Hypochondriasis are terms used for the fear of illness or disease. The word Nosophobia originates from ‘nosos’ and phobos which are Greek for disease and fear respectively. Hypochondriasis originates from Latin word for ‘upper abdomen’.
These days, doctors do not use the term Nosophobia or Hypochondriasis to diagnose patients suffering from an excessive fear of illness. The diagnosis of such patients would be made as ‘Illness anxiety disorder’. Hundreds of people around the world are diagnosed with this condition. Life often becomes miserable for the patients as well as their loved ones since simply hearing or thinking about a disease can drive one to a full-fledged panic attack.
Causes of Nosophobia and Hypochondriasis
- Most people are anxious about their health; usually this is a short termed condition in a majority of the cases. However, in Hypchondriasis, the patient constantly dwells on the idea of disease. A majority of the patients are usually suffering from a disease already and their phobia could be a result of that.
- Often a phobic might have seen his near and dear ones suffer from a disease or even die from it.
- Typically, people with anxious or nervous mindsets or those with pre existing pituitary gland/amygdale related disorders might be more affected by Nosophobia. Patients suffering from Bipolar disorders, Schizophrenia, Clinical depression or obsessive compulsive disorders are also likely to fear illness and disease constantly. Usually they aren’t aware of their depression and therefore tend to think that their symptoms are manifesting owing to some other disease.
- Nosophobia is mainly seen pertaining to cardiovascular disorders, cancer, tuberculosis, Venereal diseases etc.
- The fear of illness could arise due to somatic amplification disorder which is related to perception and cognition. Thus the phobic develops a habit of reacting negatively to thoughts pertaining to sickness and that in itself becomes severely debilitating or is ‘blown-out-of proportion’ compared to the actual risk.
- Reading about the incurable diseases online or in the media through TV or movies etc can also cause an excessive fear of Illness.
- In some cases, major disease outbreaks, such as the recent Ebola crisis could also likely trigger this phobia in nervous individuals.
- Mothers or caregivers who have been over-caring or over-protective about minor health conditions can unknowingly trigger Nosophobia in children.
Symptoms of Nosophobia
Nosophobia manifests itself differently in different patients.
- Most phobics suffer from various physical symptoms like headaches, nausea, dizziness, body ache, itching, diarrhea, night sweats etc. They often visit their doctor frequently for these symptoms and feel frustrated when they feel the doctor is unable to cure them.
- They are constantly anxious and disinterested in anything. Their sex life might be affected negatively as well as their other social activities.
- Depression is a major symptom of the disorder. Due to this, they may have weight changes, lack of appetite or conversely they might turn to food for relief.
- Some patients tend to have OCD or the excess fear of germs accompanying their Nosophobia or Hypochondriasis. As a result they might constantly wash their hands or bathe frequently to rid themselves of it.
- Their preoccupation with disease often leads them to seeking help from local healers, alternative therapies etc. They tend to order vitamins and other immunity medicines spending huge amounts of money in the process.
Life becomes difficult not just for the phobic but his/her family members as well.
Treating the fear of illness
The key to treating Nosophobia is to help the patient manage his/her anxiety about illness. Often self help techniques like meditation, positive affirmation and visualization can help provided the phobic has faith in them. Else the only way to reduce anxiety is through drugs which are bound to have side effects. Medicines like Fluoxetine etc can help manage the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain to reduce the panic attack experienced by the Nosophobe.
Clinical trials have also shown that Cognitive Behavior Therapy or CBT is useful in effectively treating fear of illness. It is like talk therapy where the phobic is made to relive his worries to reduce the frequency and intensity of bothersome symptoms s/he experiences due to this phobia.
Gradual exposure therapy is also as effective as CBT techniques in helping reduce panic attacks experienced due to the fear of illness and thereby improving the overall condition.