What is Health Anxiety (aka Hypochondriasis/Illness Anxiety Disorder)?
Health Anxiety, also known as hypochondriasis or Illness Anxiety Disorder, is marked by recurring fear and worry about being seriously ill and/or experiencing catastrophic outcomes from real or perceived medical issues. Individuals with health anxiety often report that they are very attuned to fluctuations in their body as well as possible health risks. When bodily fluctuations are noticed, the individual often experiences worry that these changes in bodily sensations (e.g. pain, changes in heart rate, etc.) are signs of a potentially dangerous medical concern. Individuals with health anxiety also commonly avoid situations in which they perceive a risk of becoming sick. Health anxiety often includes frequent reassurance seeking that one is, in fact, healthy. Reassurance is often sought through researching symptoms online, performing tests/checks on different parts of their body, and speaking to others about their symptoms. Some health anxiety sufferers also go to the doctor frequently for reassurance, while others avoid the doctor for fear that they will be given bad news about their health. Individuals with health anxiety continue to worry and experience anxiety about their health even after being reassured that they are healthy.
Health Anxiety Symptoms
- Preoccupation with the possibility of getting or having a serious health condition
- Difficulty disengaging from worry about minor symptoms and bodily fluctuations being indicative of a serious illness
- Worry and anxiety about one’s health despite negative test results and doctors’ reassurance
- Persistent worry about developing a medical illness because it runs in one’s family
- Hypervigilance towards changes in the body and internal bodily sensations
- Repetitively checking one’s body for symptoms of illness
- Frequent doctor visits for reassurance or avoiding doctor visits for fear of bad news
- Avoiding people, places, and situations in which one could become ill
Health Anxiety Treatment
The first step in health anxiety treatment is to rule out medical conditions by working closely with the individual’s medical providers. Health anxiety is most effectively treated through Exposure Therapy, which helps teach the brain that uncertainty about one’s health and minor physical symptoms are not dangerous. Similar to OCD treatment, therapy also involves eliminating behaviors that are intended to reduce uncertainty and anxiety about one’s health, such as researching symptoms online and seeking reassurance from others. We often tell our clients “Dr. Google has a 0% cure rate, no more going to Dr. Google!” Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy are also effective forms of treatment in changing one’s relationship with their thoughts, emotions, and body.
To learn more about what our treatment looks like, click here: What to Expect In Therapy