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What is hypochondriasis?

Hypochondriasis is a condition that makes you fear you have a serious illness. One type of hypochondriasis is called illness anxiety disorder. The fear that you have an illness continues even after healthcare providers tell you that you do not. Because you are anxious about your health, you may go to many different providers. When providers tell you that you do not have a serious health problem, you may not believe them. The other type of hypochondriasis is called somatic symptom disorder. This type means you have signs or symptoms of an illness and fear it is a serious illness. The fear continues even after providers tell you it is not a serious illness. Hypochondriasis can make you feel frustrated and depressed.

What causes hypochondriasis?

No one knows exactly what causes hypochondriasis. The following may increase your risk:

  • You or a loved one had a serious illness.
  • You had overly protective parents who focused too much on your minor health problems.
  • You have a mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression.
  • You have had a stressful life event, such as the death of a loved one.

How is hypochondriasis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will do a physical exam. He or she will ask about your physical and emotional health. He or she will ask if you have a history of trauma or abuse. If you do, tell him or her if you were able to get the care you needed. Your provider may ask if you drink alcohol or use drugs, or if you did in the past. He or she will also ask you about the people in your life who support you.

How is hypochondriasis treated or managed?

You may need to see your healthcare provider several times a month.

  • Medicines may be given to help with anxiety or depression. Each time you meet with your healthcare providers, they will ask you how you are feeling. Healthcare providers will watch how you respond to your medicines. Tell healthcare providers about side effects or problems you may be having with your medicine. Sometimes the kind and amount of medicine may have to be changed.
  • Therapy can be done alone or in a group with other patients. It may also be done with members of your family or your significant other. The following are common types of therapy:
    • Cognitive behavioral therapy helps to make you aware of how you see things. You may have trouble seeing the good in things around you. Then you are more likely to feel depressed, sad, or angry. Cognitive therapy teaches you to recognize how you see things and helps you to see them in a more positive way.
    • Distraction is a way of focusing your attention on something other than your health concerns. Playing cards or games, watching TV, or taking a walk are some ways to do this. Other ways are visiting with friends, painting, or writing down your feelings. These planned activities may help you manage your feelings.

Where can I find support and more information?

  • National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Office of Science Policy, Planning, and Communications
    6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 6200, MSC 9663
    Bethesda , MD 20892-9663
    Phone: 1- 301 - 443-4513
    Phone: 1- 866 - 615-6464
    Web Address:
  • American Psychiatric Association
    1000 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 1825
    Arlington , VA 22209
    Phone: 1- 703 - 907-7300
    Phone: 1- 888 - 357-7924
    Web Address:

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You think about hurting yourself or someone else.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You are not able to sleep well, or you are sleeping more than usual.
  • You cannot eat, or you are eating more than usual.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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