We explain the characteristics of this specific phobia and its differences with hypochondria.
Although concern for one’s own health and the fact of not wanting to get sick is a normal and rational reaction that occurs due to the need to avoid pain and for survival, when this concern becomes an excessive and irrational fear we can be in front of a case of nosophobia.
Throughout this article we will talk about this exaggerated fear of contracting some disease; as well as the symptoms that it presents, the causes and the possible treatments to which the patient can be subjected.
What is nosophobia?
Nosophobia is categorized within specific anxiety disorders and is characterized by provoking in the patient an exacerbated, irrational and uncontrollable fear of suffering or developing a fatal disease.
Although it does not always have to be this way, nosophobia occurs more commonly in people whose work or context is closely related to the world of disease or health, as well as in health science students. It is hypothesized that the reason for this higher incidence may be related to the imprint or impression that some pathologies can cause in the mind of the person.
One of the characteristics of people who suffer from nosophobia is that, despite the fact that for them any symptom can be a sign of a fatal disease, they avoid going to the doctor’s office at all costs. The reason is in the exacerbated fear of discovering that they have a dangerous or lethal condition, so they prefer to live without finding out.
In addition, these patients feel a total aversion to the passage of time and the fact of having a birthday. Since the older you are, the more chances of developing a fatal disease and the closer death is.
How to differentiate it from a normative fear?
Experiencing a certain fear of contracting or developing any type of disease, especially if it is fatal or poses a serious health risk, is completely normal; since it is an evolutionary reaction and follows a survival instinct. Hence, it is so important to specify the characteristics that distinguish a phobic fear from a habitual or normative fear.
The first difference is that the phobic fear is completely irrational, the person is unable to find a reasoning or rationale for the fear they experience and may even accept this irrationality but cannot yet fight against it.
The second distinction typical of this type of disorder is that the fear experienced is completely disproportionate to the actual threat that exists. Although today there is always the possibility of developing a fatal disease, the level of fear that these people experience is excessive and exaggerated.
Finally, in phobic fears the person is absolutely unable to control the fear experienced. This means that the person cannot prevent the sensations and feelings of anxiety from appearing, as well as the intrusion of intrusive thoughts and beliefs that enhance this anxiety.
Nosophobia and hypochondria: differences
Although it is true that both psychological disorders are related and that a hypochondriac person can develop nosophobia, there are certain traits that differentiate each of the disorders.
The first of them, and more distinctive, is that unlike a hypochondriac person, those who suffer from nosophobia do not believe they have developed the disease, they only experience a deep fear of doing so.
In addition, as mentioned above, a person with hypochondria makes constant visits to the health center in order to confirm their suspicions, while in nosophobia, going to the doctor is avoided by all means.
It is an avoidance mechanism with which the person can avoid any risk of discovering a fatal disease. Likewise, people with nosophobia avoid contact with sick people, talking, reading or watching films or documentaries that may be related to the diseases.
Unlike hypochondriacs, who are dedicated to researching or seeking all possible information about any disease, in nosophobia it is preferred to ignore and ignore any of these issues for fear of being recognized.
What symptoms does this anxiety disorder present?
Throughout the article, some of the characteristic symptoms of nosophobia have already been mentioned. However, it is necessary to specify that, since it is a specific anxiety disorder, there are many other symptoms in relation to this type of phobias.
As in the rest of phobias, the clinical picture of nosophobia is divided into three groups: physical symptoms, cognitive symptoms and behavioral symptoms. However, although most people experience the same symptoms, this phobia varies greatly between people.
In the physical symptoms, the person experiences an increase in the activity of the nervous system, which translates into symptoms such as increased blood pressure, tachycardia, muscle tension or stomach pain, among many others.
As for cognitive symptoms, it is distinguished by the presence of a series of irrational ideas and beliefs in relation to the possibility of developing a potentially fatal disease.
Finally, as mentioned in the previous point, the person also experiences a series of behavioral symptoms. In the specific case of nosophobia, the person tends to carry out avoidance behaviors such as not going to the doctor, avoiding medical check-ups and trying to stay oblivious to any information or exposure related in any way to lethal diseases.
What are the causes?
Although it is very difficult to find out the specific cause of a phobia, it is hypothesized that a genetic predisposition, together with the experimentation of highly traumatic experiences, can lead to the development of phobias.
In the specific case of nosophobia, the experience of the death of a loved one or close by due to a fatal disease may be enough to develop said phobia. In addition, the fact of being constantly exposed to environments or environments in which death from illness is a common occurrence (hospitals, nursing homes, health centers) or being a student of any branch of health, are also risk factors at the time of acquiring this type of anxiety disorder.
Is there a treatment?
Fortunately, there are different psychological therapies that can help reduce the intensity of the symptoms of nosophobia to the point of disappearing. The intervention through cognitive restructuring can favor the elimination of irrational thoughts and beliefs, which form the basis of this disorder,
Likewise, systematic desensitization treatment, in which the patient is mentally and gradually exposed to feared thoughts or situations, accompanied by training in relaxation techniques, are highly effective in helping the person to restore your usual pace of life.