Health Anxiety Disorder

An obsessive and irrational kind of worry for having a serious health or medical condition is known as the health anxiety. This condition is also known as illness anxiety, and was earlier known as hypochondria. If you want to know more about health anxiety disorder, then read below and discover by yourself.

Health Anxiety Disorder

In health anxiety disorder, the affected individual excessively worries that there is some kind of serious illness or disease that the person is suffering from, even if there might not physical symptom of any disease. One can mark health anxiety disorder in a person, by the individual’s imagination of having physical symptoms of any health condition or illness. In other cases, it is an individual’s misinterpretation of normal or minor body sensation as serious illness symptoms, despite being reassured by doctors that they do not have any illness. There might be extreme anxiety in case one is suffering from health anxiety disorder, and this severe distress can actually disrupt the patient’s life.

It is a long-term condition and can fluctuate in severity. Health anxiety disorder may increase as you age or during times of extreme stress in life. However, psychotherapy and also sometimes the relevant medications can help you ease the worries caused due to health anxiety disorder.

Symptoms of Health Anxiety Disorder:

The symptoms of health anxiety disorder involve your preoccupation with the idea that you are severely ill, based on the normal sensations of your body, like a noisy stomach, or by minor signs, like any minor rash. Some of the symptoms of health anxiety disorder might include the following.

  • Made up in mind that you have a serious health condition.
  • You might worry that minor symptoms or minor body sensations may imply you are having a severe illness.
  • You get easily alarmed about your body and health status. You do not get reassurance from your healthcare providers or even from the negative test reports.
  • Excessively worrying about a specific health condition or your risk of developing a health or medical condition because the disease runs in your family.
  • You might have excess distress about the possible health condition that it becomes really hard to function.
  • You might check the body repeatedly for signs of the disease or illness. This is why you might also be making frequent doctor’s appointments for reassurance.
  • You might be frequently searching on the internet for the causes and symptoms of the possible health conditions.
  • Constant talks about the fear of having a severe illness.

Causes of Health Anxiety Disorder:

  • The exact causes of health anxiety disorders are not very much known; however, there are some factors that may be involved with this condition.
  • There may be a poor sense of understanding your body sensations, health conditions, or both of these. You might think that a kind of serious disease might be causing the body’s sensations.
  • You might have a family member who must be excessively worried about their or your health.
  • You might be having a past experience of dealing with some real serious health condition during your childhood. So, this must be frightening you or causing anxiety in your adulthood.
  • Health anxiety disorder usually happens in early or middle adulthood and it can get worsen as you age. In case of elderly people, health anxiety might focus on a fear and anxiety of developing memory issues.

Risk Factors of Health Anxiety Disorder:

Some of the risk factors of health anxiety disorder include the following.

  • History of child abuse
  • Threat of any serious illness that could turn out not to be serious.
  • A time of severe life stress.
  • Any severe illness in childhood.
  • Excessive health-related search on internet.

Complications of Health Anxiety Disorder:

Health anxiety disorder may be associated with the following complications.

  • Family or relationship issues, because of excessive worrying that can frustrate other members in the family.
  • Problems in functioning of daily life.
  • Work-related performance issues.
  • Financial problems because of excessive doctor visits and medical bills.
  • Having any other mental health disorder, such as depression, anxiety disorders, somatic symptom disorder or personality disorder.

Diagnosis of Health Anxiety Disorder:

In order to achieve the diagnosis of health anxiety disorder, your physician will at first perform a physical examination so as to rule out any illness that you are concerned or anxious about. In case you are healthy and do not suffer from any health condition, you may be referred to a mental healthcare professional would might proceed on with the following for diagnosing your condition.

Psychological Evaluation:

Psychological evaluation is often necessary, to confirm the diagnosis of health anxiety disorder, if all physical tests and relevant investigations turn to be negative.

  • Questioning about your symptoms, family history, stressful situations, worries, and problems affecting your life.
  • Asking about the use of drugs, alcohol or any other substances.
  • Asking you to complete a psychological questionnaire or self-assessment.

Treatment of Health Anxiety Disorder:

Treatment for health anxiety disorder primarily focuses on improving the symptoms and your ability to function properly in daily life. Generally the treatment of health anxiety disorder involves medications and psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy – Psychotherapy is the commonest treatment of health anxiety disorder, especially the CBT or the cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT can be really effective in treating the condition, as it teaches a person the skills that can actually help you in managing your health anxiety disorder. You can either participate in CBT individually or do it in a group. Some of the benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy include the following.

  • Identifying and recognizing the worries, anxiety and beliefs regarding your health.
  • Learning several ways for looking at your body sensations, by changing useless or unhelpful thoughts.
  • Raising proper awareness on how the unwanted worries affect you as well as your behavior.
  • Differently responding to the body sensations and your symptoms.
  • Learning to cope up with your stress and anxiety in a better way.
  • Learning ways to stop avoiding situations and activities due to physical body sensations.
  • Enhancing your daily functions at home, school, work or in social settings and in your relationships.
  • Evaluating if or not you are suffering from any other mental health issues, such as bipolar disorder or depression.
  • Avoiding examining self for signs of disease or illness and repeatedly looking for reassurance that you are absolutely healthy.

There are also some other types of psychotherapy treatments used at times to treat health anxiety disorder. This might include behavioral stress management and also exposure therapy.

Medications – In some cases people might not respond to psychotherapy alone and doctors may recommend certain medications for them. Antidepressants, like the SSRIs or the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, are most often used for treating such conditions. In case one has a mood or anxiety disorder along with the health anxiety disorder, medications that are used to treat those conditions, might also help in reducing the symptoms of health anxiety.

Such medications are a part of treatment of health anxiety disorder and must be taken only as prescribed. It must be noted that medications used to treat health anxiety disorder may have serious side effects and risks. Hence, it is necessary to discuss the possible treatment options with your doctor and plan appropriate treatment.

Prevention Against Health Anxiety Disorder:

  • You must seek immediate medical help in you have problems regarding your health or have any health related anxiety and take the best medical advice.
  • You need to learn recognizing when you get stressed and how exactly this stress affects your body.
  • You must practice some stress management and relaxation techniques on a regular basis.
  • Make sure that you follow your treatment plan strictly so as to help prevent relapses or worsening of the condition.


Health anxiety disorder is actually a long-term medical condition and over time, it can vary in its severity. In many people, the condition worsens with age or while the times of extreme stress. However, by seeking proper medical attention and care, the condition can be improved and the worries or anxiety can be reduced. Treatment of health anxiety disorder includes the use of assurance, psychotherapy, stress management and sometimes medications, if needed.

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Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:February 28, 2019

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