Nosophobia is when you have a persistent, irrational fear of contracting a chronic, often life-threatening disease like cancer or AIDS. Nosophobia differs from illness anxiety disorder (hypochondria), which causes you to worry about all types of sicknesses. The number of people with nosophobia may be on the rise due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
People who have nosophobia have an illogical fear of developing a specific disease. Usually, the illness they fear is life-threatening. The word nosophobia originates from the Greek words for disease, “nosos,” and fear, “phobos.”
Nosophobia is sometimes called medical students’ disease because students may believe they have a disease after studying it. Other terms for nosophobia include disease phobia, pathophobia and hypochondria. A related and fairly new phobia is cyberchondria. This refers to people reading about a certain disease online (cyberspace) and then believing they have, or will get, that illness.
It’s hard knowing exactly how many people have a specific phobia, like nosophobia. We do know that about 1 in 10 American adults and 1 in 5 teenagers will deal with a specific phobia disorder at some point in their lives, though. And the number of people with nosophobia may have increased in recent years due to growing worries about getting sick with COVID-19.
These conditions all lead to excessive worries about illnesses without actual evidence of having a disease. But there are differences:
Research indicates that all sexes and ages are at risk for nosophobia. But people who are older might be more prone to nosophobia because of a fear of dying.
People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may also have a higher risk. OCD causes you to need to have control over situations, including whether or not you get sick.
Other risk factors include:
It’s not uncommon to have several phobias that share some connection. Someone with nosophobia may also have:
People with nosophobia may make frequent trips to the doctor and request medical tests. Or they may develop a fear of doctors (iatrophobia) because they’re afraid they’ll find out they have a disease. They often feel that doctors don’t take their symptoms and concerns seriously.
Signs of nosophobia include:
Healthcare providers always want to be sure that you don’t have a particular disease before thinking you may have nosophobia. They’ll ask lots of questions about your symptoms and will likely run some tests to make sure you’re not ill.
The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) helps mental health professionals like psychologists diagnose phobia disorders based on your symptoms and how they affect your quality of life. There isn’t a specific test for nosophobia, but your healthcare provider may use standardized questions to help them understand your fears and your real risk of having a disease.
A persistent fear about having a specific disease or developing one is a top sign of nosophobia. Your healthcare provider may diagnose this phobia if symptoms last for six months or longer, even after medical tests show you don’t have that disease.
A mental health specialist can help you overcome a fear of disease. You may benefit from therapies like:
Constantly worrying about your health can cause unnecessary stress. And it can negatively affect your physical and mental well-being. Nosophobia may cause you to miss out on time with loved ones because you’re overly concerned about your health.
Nosophobia also puts you at risk for:
You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:
You may want to ask your healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
The COVID-19 pandemic and the unlimited amount of information (and misinformation) available online about all types of diseases may spark or heighten a fear of illness. It’s smart to take steps to lower your risk for diseases, especially during an outbreak or if you have risk factors. But obsessively worrying about being sick is unhealthy for you physically and mentally. Your healthcare provider can help you improve symptoms of nosophobia so you can enjoy better overall health.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/15/2022.
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