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Do you, or do you know someone who worries a lot about their health and think they have various diseases? Then you may be suffering from health anxiety, formerly known as hypochondria. Here we explain what it is and how you can get help.

What is health anxiety?

Health anxiety, often referred to as hypochondria, is a psychiatric diagnosis typically characterised by excessive worry about having or developing a serious illness. The HSE defines hypochondriac behaviour as “when you spend so much time worrying you’re ill, or about getting ill, that it starts to take over your life”. People with health anxiety are often extremely preoccupied with their physical health and 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. It’s a condition that can be distressing but can be helped and overcome.

In this article, we explain what health anxiety is, answer common questions, etc. Read more below.

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Is health anxiety a diagnosis?

Health anxiety is a diagnosis in psychiatry but in previous editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) the term “hypochondria” was used to describe this condition. In the latest edition, DSM-5, the term has been replaced by health anxiety syndrome, among others.

Symptoms of health anxiety

Health anxiety is characterised 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 health worry: A persistent fear or belief that one has, or will have, a serious illness, based on 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 misinterpretation of their meaning.
  3. Hospital visits and health checks: Frequent visits to the doctor and the need for repeated medical examinations, which may lead to temporary relief, but the anxiety does not improve in the long term.
  4. Avoidance behaviors: 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 cause a lot of suffering in life, as the basis for it is irrational. If you recognise these symptoms, you should seek treatment to reduce symptoms and improve your quality of 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 behavioral 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 behaviors 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. At the beginning of treatment, an assessment is always made to see what might be most helpful.


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A first step in seeking help

If you recognise the symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder, it is good to seek help. It is possible to improve your quality of life and we offer access to psychologists and therapists who are ready to support you through your journey. We make the hard things easier.


12 common questions and answers about health anxiety

What is health anxiety?

Health anxiety is a psychiatric diagnosis characterised 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 in the latest version of the DSM-5 diagnostic manual.

What are the symptoms of health anxiety?

Health anxiety is an exaggerated concern about having or developing a serious illness where 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?

Basically, all anxiety problems involve a fear of death in various ways, with health anxiety being 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 and become more depressed.

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. If you worry about several things, you may also develop generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).

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 as they may talk a lot about their symptoms and seek a lot of treatment. It is important not to reinforce the anxiety in a way that is not helpful. You should encourage the person with the 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.

Can you experience health anxiety without being aware of it?

Yes, it is possible to have health anxiety without knowing it. For example, people often seek care in a way that does not reduce their anxiety.

Can health anxiety be treated?

Yes, it can be treated, you can go to therapy and sometimes you can also get medication.

What is cognitive behavioral therapy?

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

Can physical activity help reduce health anxiety?

Yes, physical activity can be helpful in reducing anxiety but may also require treatment. Regular exercise promotes psychological well-being by releasing endorphins, improving sleep quality and reducing stress so it affects quality of life.

Where can I go if I need help?

Through our site, you can book an initial session with a therapist or psychologist to describe your problems and start planning a treatment. We will help you make the hard things easier.

Step-by-step treatment for health anxiety

This section explains how health anxiety could be treated using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). There is help available and this gives you an idea of the steps you can take:

Assessment of symptoms

The first step is for a licensed psychologist or qualified therapist to help you evaluate your situation and history. You may also be asked to complete assessment forms.

Psychoeducation and objectives

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

Tools for changing behaviors and patterns

You will work on identifying and changing patterns of thinking that are linked to your health anxiety. Together with your therapist, you can work with different tools to overcome your problem. You will be given homework to practice between sessions.

Follow up and evaluate progress

You will be supported by your psychologist throughout the process. At the end of the treatment, you will also receive a plan to continue practicing and maintain your progress over time.

Feel free to book a first session with one of our licensed psychologists or therapists to see how we can help you. We make the hard things easier.

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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.