Ken Goodman L.C.S.W.

Anxiety and OCD Therapy, Coaching, and Self-Help

What is Somatic Symptom Disorder and Illness Anxiety Disorder

What is Illness Anxiety Disorder and Somatic Symptom Disorder

Preoccupation with fears of having a serious disease, being obsessed with one’s body, constantly looking for signs of something wrong with one’s health and misinterpreting those signs, are the essential features of Illness Anxiety Disorder. People with this disorder can fear a brain tumor when they have a headache; skin cancer when they see skin discoloration, and a neurologic disorder when they feel a muscle spasm. They can become so preoccupied with the idea that they are or might become ill that their anxiety impairs their ability to function and enjoy life.

Illness Anxiety Disorder can cause extreme distress and result in frequent trips to the doctor or avoidance of doctors due to the fear of what might be discover.

People who suffer with this form of anxiety are no strangers to MRIs, CAT scans and other medical screening devices.   Yet even with a negative test result, patients sometimes sill believe that they have a serious disease. They do not purposely create their symptoms, nor are they pretending. They are just preoccupied with their health and misinterpret any physical oddity they happen to notice. 

Searching on the web for answers to their health concerns just makes their anxiety worse and should be avoided.

A person with this disorder needs constant reassurance from family and friends, and this can take a toll on their relationships. On the other hand, some never tell anyone about their fears because they are afraid they will not be taken seriously.

With Somatic Symptom Disorder people become obsessed with their physical symptoms. These symptoms include but are not limited to pain, fatigue, stomach issues, jitteriness, racing heart and chest pressure, dizziness, difficulty breathing or any other physical discomfort. There is usually an urgent need to get rid of these symptoms which makes the symptoms worse.


There is HOPE

Excerpt from the Anxiety Solution Series before and after listening to the program:



“The biggest fear I had was medical conditions. Like I thought I had every medical problem there is. I would have a muscle twitch and then I would look it up on the internet and see muscle twitch could mean neurological disorder then I thought this is a problem with my brain. I would always want to go to the doctor. I would end up getting an MRI of my brain because of it.”

- College Student


“The thoughts are popping in my head less and they’re not bothering me as much. They’re not causing me any kind of anxiety.   Now I can just laugh at it and keep thinking about it if I want or think about something else. And they don’t mean much any more…. Five or six months ago my anxiety was probably an 8 or a 9. And now it’s, I would say, a 1 or a 2.  

– College Student



The exact cause of this disorder is not known. Like all anxiety disorders there is a strong genetic component. Other causes include a history of physical or sexual abuse, a close family member or friend with a serious illness, a death of a family member or friend, or previous serious illnesses. The internet and the media often contribute to these disorders. There are now more than ever, articles and TV shows about serious illnesses that are portrayed as being random, widespread, and easy to acquire.