Are you constantly worried about your health?

October 17, 2019 | by Carole Robinson, RN, LCPC, PMHRN-BC
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

Have you ever researched your symptoms online only to learn that you may have a deadly disease?

When we self-diagnose, a minor symptom can become a worse-case scenario fast.

Some researchers have even coined the term “cyberchondria” to describe the connection between online health searches and anxiety.

It’s true, we all worry about our health from time to time. But some of us really fixate on it and become preoccupied with the fear that something is seriously wrong. The term hypochondria has taken on a negative connotation over the years. Now it’s called illness anxiety disorder or health anxiety.

Illness anxiety disorder (IAD) is a persistent fear of having or getting a serious medical illness. What are some indicators of IAD?

  • You may become easily troubled by anything that could be a sign of illness. Even mild or normal symptoms can make you anxious or alarmed.
  • You may jump to serious conclusions about your health or look for information that confirms your worst suspicions.
  • You may frequently check yourself for signs of illness or avoid health risks at all costs.
  • You may repeatedly go to the doctor. Even after your doctor offers reassurance or evidence that you don’t have a serious condition, you may continue to worry that something serious may have been missed.

There is also a related term called somatic symptom disorder, in which individuals have excessive physical (or bodily) symptoms, such as pain, weakness or shortness of breath, that cause major distress or disruptions in daily life. A person with illness anxiety disorder generally doesn’t experience physical symptoms, or if they do, the symptoms are mild.

Anxiety over being sick or getting sick can cause a vicious cycle. What makes it more challenging is that the anxiety itself can lead to symptoms like rapid heart rate, chest pain, headaches, sweating, nausea and digestive problems. These physical symptoms can be misinterpreted as a sign of physical illness, increasing health anxiety.

Illness anxiety disorder may occur at any age, although it often starts in young adulthood. Some researchers see IAD as similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), as the person with IAD worries excessively, is preoccupied with thoughts of illness and often feels compelled to see a doctor over and over.

Sometimes it’s difficult for individuals with health anxiety to understand that their concerns are excessive. Although you may go to the doctor frequently, you avoid seeing a mental health professional. Maybe you don’t want to be told the symptoms are “all in your head.”

You aren’t the only one who feels this way. And, you aren’t to blame for whatever is triggering your intrusive thoughts. You truly believe there is a real danger of becoming ill. Health anxiety can be crippling.

It’s something to take seriously because the anxiety itself can cause health problems. Anxiety has been linked to several chronic physical illnesses, including gastrointestinal conditions, chronic respiratory disorders and heart disease.

Treatment with a professional is key to recovery. As with other anxiety disorders, individuals with IAD may get relieve from medication, psychotherapy and/or cognitive behavioral therapy. Relaxation exercises, such as yoga and meditation, can also help.

Don’t ignore changes to your physical or mental health. You can have a health anxiety and not realize it, just as you could be convinced that you’re overreacting about your health and actually be physically ill.

When health worries persist after your doctor confirms there is nothing medically wrong, it may mean you need more support. Let your doctor know how you’re feeling so you can take steps needed to feel better.

Do you think you or someone you love has health anxiety? The Linden Oaks mental health professionals are highly specialized and use innovative therapy to treat anxiety.

Get support from Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

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