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Most of us worry about our health from time to time, and some of us have to manage serious medical conditions. But for some people, health worries become overwhelming and a problem in itself.
Some people with health anxiety have a medical condition, which they worry about excessively. Others have medically unexplained symptoms, such as chest pain or headaches, which they are concerned may be a sign of a serious illness, despite the doctor's reassurance.
Others may be permanently anxious about their future health, worrying about things like: "What if I get cancer or heart disease?"
What causes health anxiety?
There are many reasons why someone worries too much about their health.
You may be going through a particularly stressful period of your life. There may have been illness or death in your family, or another family member may have worried a lot about your health when you were young.
Personality can be a factor. You may be vulnerable to health anxiety because you are a worrier generally. You may find it difficult to handle emotions and conflict, and tend to "catastrophise" when faced with problems in your life.
Sometimes, health anxiety can be a symptom of a mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety disorder, which needs recognising and treating in its own right (see below).
Types of health anxiety
People with health anxiety can fall into one of two extremes:
Neither of these behaviours are helpful, and need addressing if you are to break the vicious circle of health anxiety.
Health anxiety can be a vicious circle
If you constantly check your body for signs of illness, such as a rash or bump, you will eventually find something. It often won't be anything serious – it could be a natural body change, or you could be misinterpreting signs of anxiety (such as increased heart rate and sweating) as signs of a serious condition. However, the discovery tends to cause great anxiety and make you self-
You may find yourself needing more reassurance from doctors, friends and family. The comfort you get from this reassurance may be short-
When physical symptoms are triggered or made worse by worrying, it causes even more anxiety, which just worsens the symptoms. Excessive worrying can also lead to panic attacks or even depression.
Have I got health anxiety?
If you can answer "yes" to most of the following questions, it's likely that you are affected by health anxiety and might benefit from talking to a qualified therapist with experience in treating the condition.
During the past six months:
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for many people with health anxiety.
It involves working with a trained CBT therapist to identify the thoughts and emotions you experience and the things you do to cope with them, with the aim of changing unhealthy thoughts and behaviours that maintain health anxiety.
CBT looks at how to challenge the way you interpret symptoms, to encourage a more balanced and realistic view. It should help you to:
If CBT seems not the best treatment for your health anxiety we can offer you a different psychological therapy, such as trauma-
Accurate assessment is needed to select the right treatment for you and for your problem, before making choice of your treatment.
Antidepressants may be helpful if you have a mental health condition such as depression. For some people, these may work better than CBT and other therapeutic approaches. However, treating your symptoms with medication is not always the answer and the possible benefits of medication always need to be weighed against the potential negative effects.
Hypochondria (health anxiety) is excessive worrying about your health, to the point where it causes great distress and affects your everyday life.
Health Anxiety (Hypochondria)