All you need to know about health anxiety

Health Anxiety

T is a 32-year-old female. She is also a successful businesswoman. Every day before work and before going to bed she performs self-evaluations in the mirror and constantly checks her heart rate throughout the day. She has previously been to the doctor's office 4 times within the past year, each time claiming to have a different illness. Today T went to her primary caregiver armed with multiple internet searches on the topic of cancer. She states that she "just knows" she has cancer but doesn't know what type. When asked about relevant symptoms she is a bit vague and says that she just has some pain here and there.

Can you relate to what T goes through? Ever find yourself googling symptoms of migraine when you get a headache? Or checking symptoms of cancer when you get a scratchy throat? It is normal to have a certain amount of concern regarding your health. However, when the worry regarding our health exceeds normalcy, one is likely to have health anxiety . In the above-mentioned case, T has also been experiencing health anxiety.

Things people with health anxiety do

People with health anxiety may feel as though something is wrong with their health, they may even conduct multiple tests to check for the same, and when the reports don’t turn out in their favour, they may not be satisfied or happy with it. In the above-mentioned case,

even T visited the doctor multiple times for concerns about her health.

During health anxiety, naturally occurring sensations are often misinterpreted as evidence for illness, and consequently, the individual is easily alarmed about their health (2022). This alarming behaviour may interfere with their day-to-day lives. They may spend hours at the doctor’s clinic, spend money on getting multiple tests done and spend days consumed with worry about their health. They might also constantly seek information regarding health online. If they read a news story about a disease, they may think they have it. One may become so preoccupied with their health that it may interfere with one’s life, family time, hobbies, and work.

Medical Condition and health anxiety

There is a difference between people having an actual medical condition and having anxiety regarding the same, and people having anxiety regarding their health with no apparent medical condition. People with serious medical conditions may experience some anxiety about the same. However, when people have no symptoms of a medical condition, and still excessively worry about having or developing one, they may be susceptible to health anxiety, or what is known as an illness anxiety disorder (formerly known as hypochondriasis) according to the diagnostic and statistical manual (DSM-V). The name hypochondriasis has been eliminated since the 5th version of the DSM due to the term’s negative connotation.

So, what are the symptoms of illness anxiety?

Let’s take a look at the symptoms of illness anxiety disorder. People experiencing illness anxiety disorder may experience multiple symptoms like -

  • being preoccupied with having a serious illness,
  • performing excessive health-related behaviours like repeatedly checking their own body for signs of illness, or exhibiting maladaptive avoidance like avoiding doctor appointments.
  • Also, somatic (bodily) symptoms are usually not present. If they are present, they are mild in intensity.

Illness Anxiety Disorder may cause certain dire consequences as well. These are as follows -

Individuals having frequent fears of being sick may frequently take leave from work, which may eventually lead to problems within their occupational functioning. Other complications include financial distress from frequent healthcare visits and medical bills. (Almalki et al.,2016).

So, what should one do to avoid this issue?

If one is dealing with health anxiety, it is necessary to take proper steps to deal with it. It is very common to misinterpret bodily sensations, especially after the pandemic. The main thing to remember is that it is normal to experience physical sensations. Sometimes when we run up 10 flights of stairs, we may feel a rapid heart rate and breathing which is just an indication that our body is functioning. If one is experiencing certain bodily sensations, and are nervous about a medical condition, checking online for the symptoms and probable diagnosis would alleviate one’s anxiety. If one looks deeply into that online content, one might end up finding something to confirm that anxiety. Remember that the internet does not know one’s personal and family’s medical history or lifestyle.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, only 37% of people with anxiety disorders receive treatment (2020). This is due to the stigma associated with these conditions. People experiencing health anxiety or illness anxiety disorder should also seek professional help. Because individuals with such kind of anxiety consider themselves medically ill, they are usually encountered in medical rather than mental health settings. (Almalki et al.,2016). Thus, visiting a mental health professional such as a psychologist or a psychiatrist will be helpful. Seeking an evaluation from a mental health professional will help individuals understand one’s condition better and will facilitate in reducing anxiety. Untreated health anxiety can cause one to limit their life activities due to fears. With treatment, one can get those symptoms under control and move on with one’s daily life.

References

Almalki, M., Al-Tawayjri, I., Al-Anazi, A., Mahmoud, S., & Al-Mohrej, A. (2016). A Recommendation for the Management of Illness Anxiety Disorder Patients Abusing the Health Care System. Case reports in psychiatry, 2016, 6073598.https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/6073598

Always worried about your health? you may be dealing with health anxiety disorder. Harvard Heal /www.he a lth.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/always-worried-about-your-health- you-may-be-dealing-with-health-anxiety-disorder

Health anxiety in adults. Anxiety Canada. (2022, October 12). Retrieved January 25, 2023, from https://www.anxietycanada.com/disorders/health-anxiety-in-adults/

Illness anxiety disorder - statpearls - NCBI bookshelf. (n.d.). Retrieved January 26, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554399/

Image credits: Freepik

Author
Ms. Shreya Bhatte
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