What is Nosophobia? (A Comprehensive Guide)

In this blog we will discuss the causes, symptoms and treatment of Nosophobia

Nosophobia is the irrational fear of having a specific disease.

It is different from Hypochondria, which is now known as ‘illness anxiety’.

In Nosophobia the person is afraid of having a specific disease like cancer, heart disease or HIV.

Onset can be during the early and middle adulthood years.

According to the fifth edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5) Nosophobia also known as illness anxiety disorder is:…worry about illness, concern about pain, and bodily preoccupations. Individuals may or may not have diagnosed medical conditions. Although an individual with illness anxiety disorder and a diagnosed medical condition is likely to experience anxiety about the medical condition, the medical condition is not physiologically related to the anxiety symptoms (2013, p.232)

The person will always be scared of falling a victim to these diseases and thinking about his health condition will keep him anxious and he will stop thinking about his health at all just to evade the anxiety associated with it.

With the onset of COVIS 19 epidemic Nosophobia is also in the rise..

The origins of the word Nosophobia comes from the Greek word  ‘nosos’ and phobos which means disease and fear in Greek respectively. 

In recent years, nosophobia has also been referred to as cyberchondria.

If they have a family risk present then they will go out of their way to protect themselves from falling ill. 

People suffering from Nosophobia will keep reading about these illnesses and how to prevent themselves from it.

Too much information even is not good and this influx can give them a hard time to stop thinking about falling ill.

Nosophobia is an intense fear of becoming ill.

People who suffer from it have a high amount of anxiety just by thinking of falling ill.

There are some who can undergo a full-blown panic attack by just thinking of falling ill to diseases that lead to long time illness.

Symptoms of Nosophobia

  • Anxiety at imagining about diseases
  • The Inability to cope with the anxiety
  • Feeling of helplessness
  • Feeling of hopelessness
  • Accelerated heartbeat
  • Inability to breathe or gasping
  • Dizziness 
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Dry mouth
  • Mood swings
  • Withdrawn
  • Irritability 

Causes of Nosophobia 

As is common in specific phobias, the cause of Megalophobia may lie deep in the person’s childhood or its onset may be due to an environmental factor.

Genetics also plays a pivotal role in the cause of developing Nosophobia.

Etiological Models of Nosophobia

1. Biological (Genetic) Model

Genetics also determines how a person reacts and feels. Therefore, people inherit fears and phobias as well from their families.

The brain cells (neurons) release certain chemicals called neurotransmitters.

Serotonin and Dopamine are two neurotransmitters that in depleted states can cause anxiety like symptoms.

2. Psychodiagnostics Model

If a person has suffered from a traumatic experience in early childhood it can have a severe dire impact on his later life. 

A childhood traumatic experience could be where children often see people getting ill from a disease and dying or living in misery due to the illness can also leave a long lasting impression.

Reading books that have a detailed account of these diseases engulfing people and their families who were never recovered from the loss can add to the fears.

A trauma or accident that involved a lot of pain for a parent or the person himself fuels the anxiety level of the person who is already vulnerable.

Traumatic experiences: concerning health and wellness of the person himself or his loved ones can etch profound effects on the minds of people.

Either they themselves were involved in an illness or lost a loved one to it.

In both the cases the person developed an intense fear that led or was the cause of the trauma (either assumed or real).

If contracting an illness is involved in a trauma then the person can suffer from Nosophobia; being afraid of them till therapeutic intervention is involved.

3. Behavioral Model

According to this model, irrational fear of falling ill  may be caused through behaviors that are learned by replication.

Children often replicate unique behaviors of their adults, parents or a favorite aunt or uncle.

Learned behavior: children learn behaviors from their adults.

If a parent or a significant other is scared of falling ill the child learns the same kind of behavior.

If they get over anxious at trivial health issues then again the child will learn to be illogically fearful of falling ill.

Treatments of Nosophobia

Nosophobia can be treated through different treatments.

These include Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), Exposure Therapy (Systematic Desensitization), Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction MBSR) and forms of meditation.

1) Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)

In CBT the therapist helps the client to amend his thoughts so that a desirable behavior can be achieved.

This therapy is effective, because if the thoughts or cognitions alter then there will be a lasting impact on behavior.

The therapist helps the client to discover the reason for this thought, his behavior in regards to diseases and illnesses.

This therapy is goal oriented and short termed. Therefore, the results are seen soon.

It changes the way a person thinks and feels.

CBT does not focus on probing the past to resolve current problems, rather it concentrates on the present situation. 

Our thoughts determine how we act or react to certain stimuli and situations.

Therefore, negative thoughts bring about a negative behavior response or an undesirable behavior.

Whereas, positive thoughts propagate desirable and healthy attitude and response.

For the treatment of Nosophobia, the therapist separates the problem into parts.

These may include: thoughts, feelings and actions. 

  1. What thought is invoked at the sight of ill people?
  2. How do you feel when you look at the ill?
  3. What do you do when you look at the ill? 
  4. Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is a form of CBT and designed by Albert Ellis. According to Ellis, “people are not disturbed by things but rather by their view of things.” This is what subjective perspective is. 

In Nosophobia, the person sees diseases as very rightly threatening, not because these are dangerous, but because he ‘views’ them as posing some kind of threat to his existence even if he thinks or reads about them.

2) Systematic Desensitization (Exposure)

This is one of the most common therapies used in treating phobias and an effective way to desensitize the patient. 

In this therapy the client with phobia is exposed to the stimulus gradually with varying durations of time.

Every time the ‘exposure’ of the feared stimulus is increased.

In Nosophobia the client is exposed to images of ill people first.

For the fear to be invoked during therapy, the patient must be exposed to an intense stimulus (one that is feared).

He is also asked to narrate any scene from a movie he has seen that involved diseases or hospitals.

It is a type of behavior therapy developed by Wolpe in the 1950s.

The aim of Systematic Desensitization is to remove the ‘feared stimulus’ and substitute it with a ‘relaxation response.’

Initially a relaxation technique that involves deep breathing is taught to the client.

Then the client is asked to present a list that has a hierarchical presentation of his fears, starting from the least fear evoking situation to the most. 

The therapist takes the client through these situations via two methods:

a)     In vitro – where the feared stimulus is made to imagine

b)    In vivo – where the client visits the the feared place in reality

The exposure to the phobic stimulus is of varying durations, where the client exercises relaxation techniques and can revert to a previous non-threatening situation any time.

3. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

 MBSR involves being aware of one’s own thoughts, feelings and reducing the interference from around the environment.

We do not pay attention to how we process the various stimuli that affect us.

We do not process the way our bodies feel and respond, there is no focus on our thoughts and how these thoughts are influencing our emotions. 

In MBSR, the client is ‘woken up’ to actually experience the various senses.

‘Focus’ is the keyword! Awareness helps to alleviate the stress symptoms. 

4. Meditation

For meditation to be effective during treatment, the mind is cleared off all the clutter of random thoughts.

The mind and body are made to be ‘in sync’ with each other, so that the feared stimulus does not invoke a negative thought.

The client will meditate during the exposure to the open space  and concentrate on his breathing patterns in the presence of the feared stimulus. 

5. Self-Help Groups

Self Help groups are an effective type of therapy, in which the client does not find himself as a lone sufferer.

These groups are individuals who are afflicted with the same types of phobias.

They come together to share their thoughts, experiences and their coping strategies.

This also helps in developing a ‘sense of I am not the only one’ suffering.

6. Changing Lifestyle

Breaking down the dullness of the daily, helps break down anxiety as well. 

• Take up jogging or go for daily walks:

Developing a walk routine can damper the way our negative thoughts control our behavior.

• Indulging in an exercise regime:

Vigorous exercise like aerobics has proved to reduce or alleviate the symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Exercise helps the mind to cope with stress and stressful situations better.

This is what the American Psychological Association has to say about inducting exercise to eliminate stress or phobias.

• Altering eating and drinking habits:

Cutting down on fatty foods and caffeine can improve self-image, that in turn leads to a raised self-esteem.

This finally diminishes the symptoms of stress to a bare minimum.

With high intake of caffeine, the body resembles a ‘fight or flight’ response, thus giving way to anxiety.

• Improving the sleep cycle:

When we get proper rest, our concentration improves. 

7.         Psychiatric Medication 

There are a number of medicines that the Psychiatrist can prescribe if the symptoms of Nosophobia are severe.

  1. Anxiolytics (anti-anxiety drugs)

These should only be taken after the consultation with the doctor and shouldn’t be initiated or discontinued as per personal discretion.

  1. Antidepressants 

These medicines are not only used to treat depression, but also to alleviate the symptoms of Nosophobia as well as other phobias.

Medicines alone might not be as effective, but if used in conjunction with therapies then the results will be better. 

8.       Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

This kind of therapy is used to regulate the emotions.

A technique called “half-smiling” is used where the client is asked to lift the corners of his mouth when the feared thought comes to his mind.

Apart from this the mind is to be trained to refrain from thinking about the painful stimulus.

Coping Ahead is another technique in DBT that requires the client to sit quietly and think of the feared situation and strategize what he will do.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you treat Nosophobia?

Nosophobia is treated by Cpognitive Behavior Therapy and exposure therapies

How common is Nosocomephobia?

Nosocomephobia, or the fear of hospitals, is a surprisingly common medical phobia.

In fact, U.S. President Richard Nixon was said to have a fear of hospitals, reportedly refusing treatment for a blood clot as he was concerned he would “not get out of the hospital alive.”

How do I stop worrying about being sick?

To stop worrying about being one needs to avoid paying frequent visits to doctors.

Can worrying about being sick make you sick?

Yes. Too much stress can cause a person to lose concentration and fall ill more frequently, because stress lowers the immunity.

Examples of other interesting phobias


Titles to Read


  • https://psychtimes.com/sitophobia-fear-of-food/
  • www.apa.org
  • www.psychologytoday.com
  • www.brain.org