If you worry too much about your health and irrationally believe that you are suffering from a serious medical condition, then you may have health anxiety. Also referred to as hypochondria or illness anxiety, the condition is characterized by your imagination about the presence of physical symptoms of illness. It could also be due to misinterpretation of your normal or minor body sensations as symptoms of a serious disease, in spite of medical professionals reassuring you that you don’t have any illness.
It is normal for people to be concerned about their health when their bodies send signals that they are ill. However, those with health anxiety will constantly believe that they have symptoms of a serious illness. They become so preoccupied with the worry that the distress may become disabling. You will experience extreme distress about your real/imagined symptoms even though medical test results are negative and doctors assure you that you are healthy.
If you are worried about your health, the best thing you can do is consult with your doctor. However, your concern goes beyond the normal concern experienced by people; it can interfere with your quality of life and impact your ability to:
• Work in an academic or professional setting
• Function normally on a day-to-day basis
• Build and sustain meaningful relationships
Physical symptoms of health anxiety may include:
• Constantly worrying too much about your health
• Checking frequently for physical signs of illness, such as tingling, pain, or lumps
• Asking others to reassure you that you are not ill
• Worrying that your doctor or medical tests could have missed something
• Obsessively searching for health information in the media or on the Internet
• Avoiding anything related to serious illnesses, such as programmes on health issues on TV
• Acting as though you have some illness (e.g., avoiding physical activities)
• Avoiding people, places, and activities due to health concerns
• Constantly talking not only about your health but also about possible illnesses
Anxiety by itself often causes various physical symptoms such as headaches, rapid heartbeats, stomach pain, nausea, digestion problems, sleep issues, weakness, sweating, trembling, muscle tension, or pain. You can mistake these as signs of having an illness.
Causes and Risk Factors
Experts are not clear as to why some people suffer from a health anxiety disorder. However, it is believed that it could be due to the following factors:
• Poor understanding of their body sensations and/or diseases
• One of their family members worries excessively about their health
• Past experiences of dealing with really serious illnesses in childhood
Typically, health anxiety often occurs in early adulthood and worsens with age. In older people, health anxiety can lead to the development of memory problems.
Risk factors for the development of health anxiety physical symptoms include:
• A stressed situation or event
• A potentially serious illness threat that turns out to be not so serious
• History of being subjected to abuse during childhood
• A serious illness suffered during childhood or one of the parents having a serious illness
• Personality traits (worrying too much about everything)
• Excessively checking your health via the Internet
Some of the tests that may be prescribed by the mental health professional you consult may include:
• A simple blood test for anxiety can determine the blood levels of acetylcholinesterase (AChE), a blood protein released by the body when experiencing stress.
• A depression and anxiety test and a generalized anxiety disorder test involve answering a few questions. This helps our experts psychologically evaluate your condition.
It is an established fact that psychotherapy helps to reduce the levels of stress, anxiety, and phobias, as well as the severity of depression. Two of the psychotherapies that are found to be particularly effective are cognitive behavioural therapy and clinical hypnotherapy. Highly skilled mental health professionals at SoftMinds, the leading centre for psychotherapy treatments in Calicut, will help you get a clear understanding of your thought process and why you think in a particular way. Understanding how you think can contribute to reducing your anxiety levels.
At SoftMinds, we focus on helping you manage your health anxiety and improve your ability to lead a hassle-free daily life. Though psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is beneficial for health anxiety disorders, depending on the severity of your condition, you may be advised to take certain medications. Medications may include antidepressants (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs) and those used for treating mood and anxiety disorders may be prescribed.
If you are wondering how to help someone with health anxiety disorder, you can give us a call right away!