What is Health Anxiety?

Health Anxiety, also commonly referred to as hypochondria, is diagnosed in people who spend so much time worrying they’re ill, or about getting ill, when there is no medical reason to do this, it starts to take over their life.  Health anxiety can start at any age. However, it commonly starts in adolescence or in young adults.

Common Features of Health Anxiety

People with Health Anxiety may:

  • constantly worry about their health
  • frequently check their body for signs of illness, such as lumps, tingling or pain
  • are always asking people for reassurance that they’re not ill from medical professionals and/or family and friends
  • worry that their doctor or medical tests may have missed something
  • obsessively look at health information on the internet or in the media

Commonly Feared Situations in Health Anxiety

People with Health Anxiety will often try to avoid situations that might trigger worries about their health:

  • Avoid any information on serious illnesses e.g. turn the TV off if a hospital program is on
  • Act as if they were ill, for example, avoiding exertion or exercise.
  • Keeping near to home, resting

Common Beliefs in Health Anxiety

As mentioned above worry about illness is the key feature of Health Anxiety and they can often see possible danger in body symptoms. Some common thoughts include:

  • ”This must be cancer”
  • “I feel I am unwell”
  • “Surely a headache like this can’t be just stress·
  • ”That tingling seems like it may be the first sign of a stroke”
  • “I may die if I don’t do something·”
  • “Doctors often miss illnesses despite examinations and tests”
  • “Some new symptoms have come since I last spoke with the doctor, it may be more serious than he thought”

Physical symptoms of Health Anxiety

People with HEALTH ANXIETY will have many of the usual physical symptoms of anxiety Some of the most common include:

  • Body aches (including headaches)
  • Muscle tension
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Irritability
  • Trouble sleeping

Who is affected by Health Anxiety?

In Australia, Health Anxiety affects around 3-5% of the population in any one year, and up to 5% of the population may experience Health Anxiety at some point in their lives. It occurs more often in women than men.

People with Health Anxiety often meet criteria for other anxiety disorders, as well as depression.