How is illness anxiety disorder (IAD) treated?

The three goals of treatment for people with IAD are to:

  1. Continue to function as normally as possible
  2. Ease mental distress
  3. Stop overuse of medical services

The best way to achieve these goals depends a lot on the patient’s preferences, and on the presence or absence of other illnesses commonly associated with IAD.

In most if not all cases of IAD, the patient’s primary doctor should continue to play an important role. Reasons for this:

  • The primary doctor can schedule regular office visits if necessary (e.g., every three to six months) to address the patient’s ongoing concerns. Patients are advised to stick with one doctor rather than “doctor-shop” (go from one specialist to another).
  • The primary doctor can help the patient decide if referral to a specialist is needed. This helps limit the number of tests with their potential problems and side effects.
  • Relying on one doctor who knows the patient well helps reduce costs and risks of too many office visits and tests.
  • Some people with IAD have severe psychological distress that needs treatment by a mental health professional. The primary doctor can suggest these services, making sure to clarify the reason for the referral and how it might help.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (a type of talk therapy) can help patients learn to cope with IAD and lead more productive lives. For some, medications for anxiety, depression, or other mental disorders may help.

What are the possible complications of illness anxiety disorder (IAD)?

IAD itself is not life-threatening. However people with IAD (especially accompanied by clinical depression) can develop thoughts of suicide. Such thoughts or feelings should not be ignored. Most people are reluctant to talk about being depressed and especially about having suicidal thoughts. Hiding or ignoring such thoughts – and not getting help – can have tragic results.

Other complications may include:

  • Overuse of medical and laboratory services
  • Costly medical bills
  • Complications from testing procedures
  • Disability and unemployment
  • Marital or family problems

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