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What is nosophobia?

Nosophobia, also known as disease phobia, is an exaggerated fear of contracting a specific disease or health condition. People suffering from nosophobia often worry that they will become seriously ill, despite a lack of medical evidence to support it. This fear can become so intense that it affects the person’s daily life and decision-making, leading to anxiety and avoidance behaviors to protect themselves from the dreaded disease.

Nosophobia differs from health anxiety, where the individual is more generally concerned about their health and often interprets ordinary bodily sensations as signs of serious illnesses. Nosophobia instead focuses on a specific disease or health condition, such as HIV, cardiovascular disease or cancer.

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What causes nosophobia?

Nosophobia develops from psychological, biological and environmental factors. Individuals with a tendency towards anxiety problems may be particularly susceptible, and personal or family history of illness may reinforce this fear.

There may be a behavior of constantly searching for disease information on the internet, leading to increased anxiety. Family dynamics, such as growing up in an overprotective environment or one where health is discussed in an anxiety-inducing way, can also play a role, as can biological aspects such as genetic predisposition to anxiety. Personality traits such as perfectionism or excessive caution can further increase the risk of developing nosophobia.

How common are phobias?

According to research in the field, approximately 8-12% of the population suffer from one or more phobias in their lifetime. These can range from common phobias such as fear of heights and social phobia to lesser known ones such as ‘hole phobia’ (trypophobia).


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Symptoms of nosophobia

The symptoms of nosophobia can vary depending on the individual but tend to include both psychological and physical signs. Psychologically, people with nosophobia may experience constant worry or anxiety about the possibility of contracting a specific disease, even in the absence of medical evidence. This worry can be so severe that it affects their daily functioning and decision-making, leads to avoidance behaviors to protect themselves from the feared disease, and interferes with their social and professional life.

Physical symptoms that can occur due to the anxiety include heart palpitations, sweating, trembling, breathing difficulties, stomach problems and sleep problems. Individuals may also engage in excessive checking of body signals or symptoms, frequent visits to the doctor without medical reasons, or compulsive research of diseases on the internet.

It is important to note that nosophobia is more than just an occasional health concern; it is a persistent fear that can affect functioning in daily life and may require professional treatment to manage effectively.


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Treatment for nosophobia

Treatment for nosophobia involves reducing the anxiety and fear associated with the disease and improving the individual’s coping mechanisms and daily functioning. Treatment strategies may include:

  1. Psychotherapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is particularly effective in treating various phobias, including nosophobia. CBT helps individuals to identify and challenge the irrational thoughts that contribute to their fear and to learn new, more healthy ways of thinking and behaving in relation to their fear of disease. It can also include exposure by gradually approaching the fear in different ways.
  2. Mindfulness and relaxation techniques: Practices such as mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation can help reduce the anxiety and stress associated with nosophobia.
  3. Medication: In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help manage the symptoms of anxiety that often accompany nosophobia. Medication is often used in combination with therapy for best results.

Treatment should be tailored to the individual’s specific needs and circumstances, and a combination of treatments may be most effective. It is important for people suffering from nosophobia to seek professional help to manage their condition.

Seeking help can change your life

Nosophobia is not something you need to deal with on your own. Talking to a professional therapist or psychologist can not only help you understand your condition better but also offer effective methods to overcome your problems. You are not alone and it is okay to ask for help. On our website, we have qualified therapists and licensed psychologists who are happy to help you overcome your problem.

Your next step

If you or someone you know is struggling with nosophobia, it’s a good idea to talk to a professional therapist or psychologist. We assure you that all therapists and psychologists on our platform are qualified and that your conversation is always confidential. Don’t be afraid to take the first step.


12 frequently asked questions about nosophobia

What is nosophobia?

Nosophobia, also known as disease phobia, is an exaggerated fear of contracting a specific disease or health condition.

What diseases can you be afraid of?

Nosophobia focuses on a specific disease or health condition, such as HIV, cardiovascular disease or cancer.

How does nosophobia differ from health anxiety?

Nosophobia differs from health anxiety, where individuals are more generally concerned about their health and often interpret ordinary bodily sensations as signs of serious illnesses. Nosophobia is instead focused on a specific disease or health condition.

How do phobias differ from ordinary fears?

Ordinary fear is a natural reaction to an actual danger, while a phobia is an exaggerated fear that has no rational explanation. Phobias can be triggered even when there is no actual risk.

Are phobias common?

Yes, phobias are one of the most common forms of mental health problems. It is estimated that a significant proportion of the population suffers from at least one form of phobia.

What are the symptoms of nosophobia?

The symptoms of nosophobia can vary depending on the individual but tend to include both psychological and physical with worry, palpitations, dizziness and other symptoms of anxiety.

What causes nosophobia?

Nosophobia develops from psychological, biological and environmental factors. Individuals with a tendency towards anxiety problems may be particularly susceptible, and personal or family history of illness may reinforce this fear.

Is it possible to get rid of a phobia?

Yes, with the right treatment and support, phobic symptoms can be treated. However, it usually requires the help of a licensed psychologist or therapist.

How does treatment work?

Treatment can vary but often involves cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with exposure and medication if necessary.

Can you avoid doctors, hospitals and medication if you have nosophobia?

You can avoid things related to the disease you are afraid of if you have nosophobia, but it is possible to get help.

What is cognitive behavioral therapy?

CBT is an active evidence-based treatment method that works with thoughts, feelings and behaviors in different situations to improve quality of life and overcome certain symptoms.

Where can I turn if I need help?

At Lavendla, we have experienced psychologists and therapists working with CBT who can help you feel better if you have mild to moderate symptoms. If you have more severe symptoms, you can contact your healthcare center to get a referral to a specialist psychiatrist. If you have thoughts of self-harm or suicide, contact 112 or the nearest emergency room.

What does treatment for nosophobia involve?

Seeking help is a big step towards better health, it is a positive thing to decide to take control of your wellbeing. Here is an overview of the steps usually involved in CBT treatment.

Step 1: An initial assessment session

The first meeting with your psychologist or therapist is an assessment to review your mental and physical health. You may be asked questions about your life situation, feelings, thoughts and behaviors. You may also be asked to complete assessment forms.

Step 2: Goal setting

This is where you and your therapist set concrete goals for the therapy, both short and long term.
It can define which areas of your life are most affected by your wellbeing and how you would like to change them.

Step 4: Treatment with different techniques and tools

This is the start of the actual treatment phase, which involves exercises aimed at giving you tools to overcome and work through the problem you are suffering from.

Step 5: Monitoring and evaluation

The treatment is regularly monitored to see how well the therapy is working. If necessary, the treatment plan can be adjusted or renewed.

Step 6: Ending and looking ahead

As the therapy comes to an end, it is time to reflect on the progress made. You will also receive a maintenance plan for how to use the tools and strategies you have learned in the future. It is also important to monitor the results over time.

If you or someone close to you is looking for professional help, don’t hesitate to book a session with one of our licensed psychologists or therapists.

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Written by Ellen Lindgren

Licensed psychologist

Ellen is a licensed psychologist and has experience mainly in clinical psychology where she has worked with various conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, crises and trauma in primary care and psychiatry. She has also worked with research while studying in the US and with affective disorders and insomnia at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.