Nosophobia’s Greek origin is a combination of “nosos,” meaning disease, and “phobos,” meaning fear. The Greek origin alludes to the definition of nosophobia which is an irrational and intense, uncontrollable fear of disease. So, what characterises this specific phobia?
If an outbreak occurs and many people become ill, it is common for people to worry about getting sick from an infectious disease or a serious illness. However, for someone with nosophobia, anxiety about a specific disease can become so overwhelming that it gets to the point where routine activities like work, relationships, and socialisation are affected.
Once commonly referred to as “medical student syndrome” or “medical students’ disease,” newer research suggests that nosophobia doesn’t necessarily affect more medical students than anyone else.
To better understand the symptoms, causes, risk factors, and treatment options for nosophobia, let’s take a look at the most common occurrences. If you suffer from a crippling fear of illness, you may be able to lessen the frequency and severity of your symptoms with the right information and tools.
When Do You Have Hypochondriasis Versus Fear of the Dark?
Nosophobia and illness anxiety disorder (hypochondriasis) are often confused. There are significant differences between the two, though.
- Someone with illness anxiety disorder may constantly worry that they have or will develop a life-threatening sickness or disease.
- Someone with nosophobia, however, will become increasingly (and often irrationally) fearful about contracting a specific disease — usually something that’s generally life-threatening and very well-known like heart disease or cancer. If they believe they have a physical sign of the disease, they may seek medical attention.
Nosophobia, on the other hand, is a fear of a specific disease, whereas illness anxiety disorder is more generalised. For example, someone with nosophobia might constantly fear developing a cranial tumour even if they’ve never had a headache. On the other hand, someone who suffers from illness anxiety disorder may be concerned that a passing headache signals the presence of a cranial tumour.
Another very distinct difference between the two conditions is that people with illness anxiety disorder are more likely to ask for reassurance or help in dealing with their symptoms. Most people (although not all) living with nosophobia don’t reach out for help.
Symptoms of Nosophobia
The most prevalent symptom of nosophobia is simply an extreme, irrational fear of developing a specific disease. This excessive fear will often continue even after being examined by a physician and found to have no known symptoms to be concerned about. Over time, the constant and excessive fear of developing the disease can cause other symptoms, including:
- The heartbeat is quickening.
- Sleeping problems
- Inhalation is shallow and rapid.
Someone with nosophobia may completely avoid the topic and any news about the disease they fear. Simply hearing about it can trigger both emotional and physical symptoms. They may also be reluctant to go to places like supermarkets or movie theatres, both of which are inherently public.
This isn’t true for all people who suffer from nosophobia, though. Others become obsessed with learning all they can about the disease they fear. They might spend hour after hour researching ailments or monitoring social media and other news outlets for information. It can consume their life.
Nosophobia: Its Causes and Prevalence
There are various possible causes for nosophobia. However, in the majority of cases, the root cause remains a mystery. But there are known risk factors that can increase the likelihood of getting the disease. These risk factors are listed below.
The fear that something bad could happen to you when a loved one has a serious medical condition and then suffers complications is understandable. This is particularly true if you’re the person’s caretaker and you’ve been watching their symptoms evolve. Nosophobia can also be caused by:
- Having generalised anxiety about your health
- Experiencing the loss of a loved one to a particular disease
- Suffering from an impairment of perception known as somatic amplification disorder (SAD).
Living through a major global health crisis may also cause nosophobia to develop in some people. This is especially true when we’re bombarded with stories about a disease in the news, from family and friends, or through other means.
Some experts suggest that people who research health conditions regularly on the Internet may be at higher risk for developing nosophobia. You also may be more at risk if you have family members with nosophobia, or if someone in your family has another type of anxiety disorder.
Finally, if you or a family member suffers from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, OCD, or chronic depression, your chances of developing nosophobia increase.
Getting Help for Your Fear of Heights
Nosophobia can be diagnosed when anxiety about developing a disease detracts from quality of life.
Schedule an appointment with your primary care provider if you suspect that you or a loved one suffers from nosophobia. You can be referred to a specialist who is familiar with nosophobia and can provide an accurate diagnosis by your primary care physician.
Therapy has proven quite successful for people with nosophobia. A therapist will utilise various techniques to help alleviate the symptoms you experience. Exposure therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are the two most common. In some cases, medication can help too.
The goal of exposure therapy is to help you face your fears in a safe and controlled environment. To begin, your therapist will teach you coping techniques that will help you maintain control when you begin to have fears that you might contract a disease. Your symptoms will be better controlled, you’ll have fewer episodes of anxiety, and new symptoms will appear less frequently if you use exposure therapy. Gradually, you’ll find your tolerance increases as you intensify the exposure.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) (CBT)
CBT utilises various methods to teach you to recognise your irrational fears and thoughts as they develop, whether it’s nosophobia, autophobia, or atychiphobia. By examining how our thoughts influence our feelings, which in turn influence our actions, cognitive behavioural therapy is a helpful tool. You’ll then learn to challenge those unhealthy thoughts with rational, more productive ones. If we can work on changing our automatic negative thoughts, we can ideally change how we feel and what we do.
Reframing irrational fear and putting it into perspective can be very helpful for people with various other anxiety-based disorders, as well. Online cognitive behavioural therapy for nosophobia may include elements of exposure therapy as well.
Specific phobias have yet to be successfully treated with any medications that have been developed for this purpose. There are drugs that can help some people if they are used in conjunction with other self-help methods such as cognitive behaviour therapy, exposure therapy, and yoga and other forms of exercise. For example, beta-blockers or benzodiazepines might help.
- Beta-blockers can help you keep a steady and healthy heart rate by reducing the risk of blood pressure spikes.
- Benzodiazepines induce mild sedative effects that can help keep the mind calm during periods of anxious stimulation. Benzos, as they’re known, should only be used with caution and under strict supervision as they’re known to be addictive. For this reason, they’re only typically used as a very short-term solution.
It’s normal to be afraid of getting sick or becoming ill. Almost everyone has experienced this at some point in their lives. This is especially true now that the Internet provides us with such a wealth of medical information. Being curious and doing research on health issues is perfectly acceptable.
Even if your research into a particular disease begins to affect your day-to-day life, you may want to consider speaking with an experienced psychotherapist. Some studies have shown that phobia therapy success rates are very high. Even if you’re experiencing an intense fear of disease, know that you’re not alone on your journey to healing.