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Do you find yourself constantly worrying about your health? Help is available.

What is health anxiety?

Health anxiety, formally referred to as hypochondria, is a psychiatric diagnosis, characterized by excessive worry about having or developing serious illnesses. People with health anxiety are often extremely preoccupied with their physical health. They may interpret normal bodily sensations as signs of serious health problems.

This may mean that they Google their symptoms a lot, seek medical attention frequently, and ask those around them repeatedly about their sensations. Health anxiety can be distressing, but help is available.

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Is health anxiety a diagnosis?

In the past, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) used the term “hypochondria” to describe this condition. Illness anxiety disorder replaces hypochondria in the latest edition, the DSM-5. Health anxiety as a term can be used to describe anxiety involving health that is not serious enough to be considered a disorder. However, it is also often used interchangeably with illness anxiety disorder.

Symptoms of health anxiety

Health anxiety is characterized by excessive worry about having or developing a serious illness. Individuals with health anxiety may experience common bodily sensations as signs of serious health problems and often spend a lot of time and energy worrying about their health. This worry persists despite medical examinations and assurances that there is no serious medical basis for this concern. The main features of health anxiety are:

  1. Excessive worries about health: A persistent fear or belief that one has, or will develop, a serious illness, based on the interpretation of bodily symptoms (even when medical examinations show no serious medical conditions).
  2. Hyper-attention to bodily functions: Constant attention to and interpretation of bodily sensations, pain or discomfort, often leading to a misinterpretation of their meaning.
  3. Multiple hospital visits and health checks: Frequent visits to the doctor and the need for repeated medical examinations, may lead to temporary relief, but the anxiety does not improve in the long term.
  4. Avoidance behaviours: Avoiding certain places, activities or things that they believe could lead to illness or injury.
  5. Emotional stress: Health anxiety can lead to significant anxiety, stress and impact on daily functions.

Health anxiety is a problem that can significantly impact quality of life. If you recognize these symptoms, you should seek treatment to reduce symptoms and improve your life.


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Treatment of health anxiety

Treatment for health anxiety often involves a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Here are some of the most common treatment methods:

Psychotherapy: Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective forms of therapy. It helps people understand their problem and how it developed. CBT also helps individuals to identify and challenge negative thought patterns and behaviours that contribute to the anxiety, and to develop other approaches that lead to improved well-being.

Medication: Drug treatment may include the use of antidepressants. These drugs can help regulate mood and reduce anxiety symptoms.

It is important to remember that treatment for health anxiety is individual, and what works best can vary from person to person. Treatment for health anxiety can vary in time depending on the severity, with milder symptoms requiring shorter treatment than more severe symptoms. An assessment is the first step during treatment to see what might be most helpful.


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12 common questions and answers about health anxiety

What is health anxiety?

Health anxiety is characterized by an excessive worry about having or developing a serious illness. People with health anxiety are often extremely preoccupied with their physical health and may interpret normal bodily sensations as signs of serious health problems.

Are health anxiety and hypochondria the same thing?

Health anxiety used to be called hypochondria. The name was changed to illness anxiety disorder in the latest version of the DSM-5 diagnostic manual.

What are the symptoms of health anxiety?

Health anxiety involves exaggerated concerns about having or developing a serious illness. People may experience common bodily sensations as signs of serious health problems and often spend a lot of time and energy worrying about their health. This concern persists despite medical examinations and assurances that there is no serious medical basis for this concern.

Is health anxiety death anxiety?

In general, all anxiety problems involve a fear of death in various ways. Health anxiety involves a fear of dying from a disease even though there is no evidence of this.

Can health anxiety lead to depression?

Health anxiety can contribute to the development of depressive symptoms if it goes untreated for a long time. People may start to avoid things because of their anxiety, worsening mood and feelings of isolation.

How is health anxiety different from regular anxiety?

Health anxiety focuses specifically on health issues, such as worrying about having a serious illness, whereas general anxiety is often about more immediate concerns such as work, relationships or health.

What should I do if I have a relative or close friend who suffers from anxiety?

Having a loved one with health anxiety can be difficult. Encourage the person with anxiety to seek help, and if you find it difficult to know what to do, you can also talk to a psychologist or qualified therapist, or visit https://www.anxietycanada.com/.

Can you experience health anxiety without being aware of it?

Yes, it is possible to have health anxiety without knowing it.

Can health anxiety be treated?

Yes, it can be treated with therapy and in some cases, medication.

What is cognitive behavioural therapy?

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based therapy that helps individuals identify and challenge negative thought patterns and behaviours that contribute to anxiety.

Can physical activity help reduce health anxiety?

Yes, physical activity can be helpful in reducing anxiety. However, treatment such as therapy or medication may also be needed. Regular exercise promotes psychological well-being by releasing endorphins, improving sleep quality and reducing stress.

Where can I go if I need help?

You can book an initial session with a therapist or psychologist on our website. We will help you make the difficult easier. Additionally, calling 211 can give you information on anxiety resources in your area.

Step-by-step treatment for health anxiety

Here, we identify how cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can treat health anxiety. There is help available and this gives you an idea of the steps you can take:

1. Assessment

The first step is for a licensed psychologist or qualified therapist to help you evaluate your situation and history.

2. Psychoeducation and objectives

You will learn about your anxiety and how it affects you both physically and psychologically. Then, you will work on analyzing situations and also set goals for treatment.

3. Tools for changing behaviours and patterns

You will work on identifying and changing patterns of thinking that are linked to your health anxiety. Ultimately, together with your therapist, you can work with different tools to overcome your concerns. Your therapist will give homework to practice between sessions.

4. Follow-up and evaluate progress

Your psychologist will support you throughout the process. Additionally, at the end of the treatment, you will also receive a plan to continue practicing and maintaining your progress over time.

    A first step in seeking help

    If you recognize the symptoms of health anxiety in yourself, seek help. It is possible to improve your quality of life. We offer access to psychologists and therapists who are ready to support you through your journey. We make the difficult easier.

    Lavendla – Making the difficult easier

    Written by Ellen Lindgren

    Licensed psychologist

    Ellen is a licensed psychologist and has experience mainly in clinical psychology where she has worked with various conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, crises and trauma in primary care and psychiatry. She has also worked with research while studying in the US and with affective disorders and insomnia at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.