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Health Anxiety Disorder

What is Health Anxiety Disorder?

Health anxiety, which was previously referred to as hypochondria, is a psychological disorder that results in the sufferer worrying constantly about their health, even when there is no reason to think that there is something wrong and they have been reassured by their doctor. The individual misinterprets normal bodily symptoms as a sign of a life threatening illness such as cancer or HIV. If you suffer from this debilitating condition, you may find that you panic every time you have a cough or a twinge, sending your adrenaline into overdrive as you find yourself convinced that there is something awfully wrong.

People with health anxiety often visit their GP or other health professionals frequently for reassurance. The anxiety itself can have a devastating effect on their quality of life. Because they may have been treated dismissively, they worry that the doctor may not have investigated their physical symptoms thoroughly, and that something has been overlooked, feeding their anxiety even more.

People with health anxiety might even start avoiding their doctor, either because of their experience of being dismissed, or because they feel that they can’t stand any reminder of illness. In the process, when they do really become ill, they might not get the treatment they need. People with health anxiety may also spend a lot of time on the Internet reading about the illness they fear they have, and checking their body of any signs of illness.

Health anxiety often occurs together with other conditions, such as depression (which can actually contribute to some of the physical symptoms that concern them, such as weight loss or gain), or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

How common is health anxiety disorder?

It may be more common in women and occurs in about 5% of patients attending their GP’s surgery.

What is the treatment for Health Anxiety Disorder?

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a proven treatment for health anxiety. Treatment will involve:

  • Monitoring and understanding patterns and triggers to anxiety and its effects

  • Gaining an understanding of how your health anxiety developed and is maintained

  • Reducing checking and reassurance seeking behaviours

  • Identifying anxiety provoking beliefs and thoughts and looking for alternative, more balanced perspectives

  • Reducing your focus on health symptoms and worries

  • Challenging avoidance and safety behaviours

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