Health anxiety involves excessive worry about having or developing a serious illness. This psychiatric condition can affect a person’s life in various ways.

Health anxiety is also known as illness anxiety disorder and, formerly, hypochondria.

It involves persistent worry and anxiety about one’s health and developing a serious condition. This anxiety can have effects on a person’s daily life, including avoiding certain activities and situations.

This article discusses how health anxiety affects a person’s daily life, the symptoms of health anxiety, and how to manage it.

This article also includes personal stories from Eli Mizrahi, founder of a pain management website, and Corinne Segura, founder of My Chemical Free House. Both individuals live with health anxiety.

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Health anxiety can have significant effects on a person’s social, occupational, and personal life.

Individuals with health anxiety may spend a lot of time visiting doctors and other healthcare professionals to get medical tests done or to receive reassurance that they are healthy. This can also be financially costly, depending on their insurance and copayments.

They may also spend an excessive amount of time searching their symptoms online, which can lead them to ignore those around them.

Eli’s story: How health anxiety affects my life

After an intense night when my infant son nearly choked on vomit in his sleep, I developed health anxiety. Ever since that night, every cough or gurgle feels like a potential medical emergency.

A simple twinge or ache can morph into a full-blown worry fest, with me spending hours glued to Dr. Google, researching every possible symptom. This spiral can disrupt my entire day, even making social outings stressful and filled with apprehension.

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Health anxiety can affect a person’s working life, as they may leave work early to attend appointments with healthcare professionals.

It can also profoundly affect their personal relationships. This may be due to the amount of personal finances they put into the expenses of seeing healthcare professionals.

The individual must also require constant reassurance about their health or expect their partner to help with excessive decontamination rituals at home, which can cause distress in their relationships.

Other people with health anxiety may avoid going to see a healthcare professional or going to the hospital out of fear of receiving a serious diagnosis. However, this can lead to avoidance of receiving actual needed medical attention. This can affect both their physical and mental health.

Types of health anxiety

Most people with health anxiety fall into two categories:

  • Care-seeking: These individuals persistently seek care from healthcare professionals. They may frequently utilize different aspects of the healthcare system and request opinions from other doctors or healthcare professionals. Care-seeking individuals may also request various treatments and investigations.
  • Care-avoidant: These individuals tend to avoid medical care altogether. They live with a persistent fear that going to a doctor or other healthcare professional will end in receiving a serious or life threatening diagnosis, such as cancer.

Corinne’s story: How chronic fatigue syndrome leads to my health anxiety

I developed chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) quite suddenly when I was 15. However, it was another decade before I received an official diagnosis. The unknown diagnosis and symptoms that are associated with CFS caused me to have anxiety and panic attacks.

I still have health anxiety since I still have lots of symptoms that come with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome — like a feeling of heart weakness, irregular heartbeats, dizziness, and others.

Anxiety lowers my energy and seems to be a major cause of CFS itself, so it keeps me in this state of being about 95% bedbound. Right now I am also scared to walk very much because that is when I have sensations in my heart that have not yet been figured out.

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Learn more about health anxiety.

Health anxiety may affect each individual differently. However, common symptoms include:

  • frequently checking one’s body for lumps, pain, tingling, or other signs of illness
  • constantly asking others for reassurance that they are healthy
  • persistently worrying about one’s health
  • excessively looking at health information on the internet
  • frequent worry that a doctor or medical tests will miss or have missed something
  • acting as though they are actually ill, for example, avoiding physical activity
  • avoiding anything to do with serious illness, such as medical television programs

Read more about health anxiety and its symptoms.

Treatment for health anxiety may involve psychotherapy, medications, or a combination of the two.

One type of psychotherapy that mental health professionals often use to help treat health anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

CBT is a type of therapy that aims to help an individual change their negative thoughts and beliefs with behavioral modification strategies. For example, it may address a person’s excessive need to check their body for signs of illness.

CBT may also help to educate the individual on natural variations of somatic sensations, such as pain, vibrations, temperature, and touch.

Medications, such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) have shown to be a useful treatment for individuals with health anxiety.

Learn about the differences between SSRIs and SNRIs.

Eli and Corinne’s stories: How I manage my health anxiety


Therapy has been a game-changer. It’s given me tools to fight those irrational thoughts that take over. We’ve been working on this thing called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and it’s been awesome. CBT helps me see those “what-ifs” from a calmer perspective.

For example, before CBT, a simple cough might send me down a dark path of imagining the worst-case scenario. Now, I can ask myself things like: “Has Leo been around anyone sick? Does his cough seem different than usual? When was his last checkup?”

By asking these questions, I can calm myself down and trust the knowledge I’ve learned from our pediatrician.


I meditate 3 to 5 times a day, which has been the biggest help (it’s really the only time I can feel bone-deep relaxation). I also use the Gupta Program to calm the nervous system.

I also take two medications for anxiety and an additional medication to help me sleep.

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There are several ways a person can help to manage their health anxiety.

Challenge thoughts

A person can create two columns on a piece of paper. On one side they write their health worries. On the other side, they write more balanced thoughts.

For example, if they write “I’m worried about my headaches” in column one, they may write “Headaches can be a sign of stress” in column two.

Keep a health diary or journal

An individual can keep a journal of how often they ask people for reassurance, look up health information, or check their body.

The aim of this is for the individual to reduce how often they do those things in a week.

Get back to typical activities

A person can try to get back into activities they have avoided due to health concerns, such as socializing or participating in sports.

Keep busy

If an individual feels the need to check their body or look up health information, they can try to distract themselves with other activities, such as calling a friend or going for a walk.

How can a person help someone with extreme health anxiety?

People can help someone with health anxiety in various ways. This may include:

  • listening to them and encouraging them to seek mental health treatment, if needed
  • setting boundaries by not allowing them to constantly talk about their health
  • accepting their thoughts and feelings and not dismissing them
  • encouraging them to continue to engage in what matters, such as work or relationships

How can a person stop health anxiety compulsions?

A person with health anxiety can help manage their compulsions to check their body, talk about their health, or look up health information by reaching out for help from a mental health professional.

They can also engage in self-care by keeping a journal, challenging their negative thoughts, and distracting themselves with other activities when they feel a compulsion beginning.

Anxiety resources

Visit our dedicated hub for more research-backed information and in-depth resources on anxiety.

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Health anxiety involves excessive and persistent worry about one’s health. It can affect a person’s daily life due to their need to constantly go to the doctor or speak with another healthcare professional.

Excessive searching of symptoms online or spending personal finances on healthcare or medical tests can also affect their daily life and relationships.

Treatment for health anxiety often includes psychotherapy, medications, or a combination of the two. A person can also help manage their health anxiety by keeping a journal and getting back to activities they have avoided due to health worries.

If a person experiences health anxiety that affects their daily life, they should seek help from a mental health professional.