A person may have health anxiety if they often have persistent worries or fears about having medical conditions. Although health anxiety can significantly interfere with a person’s quality of life, effective treatments are available.
Health anxiety is when a person has persistent worries and fears about having or developing undiagnosed medical conditions. The anxiety can grow to a point where it starts interfering with the person’s quality of life.
This article discusses the causes, symptoms, and treatments of health anxiety. It also answers frequently asked questions and lists helpful resources.
Health anxiety is a mental health condition. A person with health anxiety typically has anxiety that persists despite medical professionals saying they do not have any health issues. Their anxiety may negatively affect their daily life.
Health anxiety is a chronic condition. It tends to affect adolescents, with symptoms that get worse with age. About
People with care-seeking health anxiety seek medical care and tests for their health concerns and worries. Those with care-avoiding health anxiety avoid medical care due to fears of medical attention and tests.
Other names for health anxiety are illness anxiety disorder and hypochondria. However, medical health professionals no longer use the term hypochondria because of its negative connotations.
A person may have health anxiety if they:
- constantly feel worried about their health
- check themselves frequently for physical signs of illness, such as lumps or pain
- often worry that medical professionals missed something in health checkups
- regularly ask others for reassurance they are not ill
- often look at health information in the media or avoid things associated with serious illness, such as medical TV programs
- behave as if they are ill, such as avoiding physical activities
- experienced a severe illness during childhood
- have parents or siblings with a serious medical condition
- have other anxiety conditions, such as generalized anxiety disorder
- had parents or carers who often discussed or had concerns about health issues
- spend a lot of time reading health-related materials online
For example, people with health anxiety may frequently need to take leave from work due to fears of being ill. Other complications can include financial issues from regular healthcare visits and medical bills.
People who experience health anxiety are also at high risk for developing other mental health conditions, such as:
- major depressive disorder
- personality disorders
- other anxiety disorders
Therapists use CBT to help people recognize thought and behavior patterns that may be problematic. During CBT, people identify and explore how their thoughts and emotions affect their actions. They can then learn how to adjust behaviors if needed and develop new thought patterns to help with reducing health anxiety.
Other methods that may help with health anxiety include exposure therapy, which involves controlled exposure in a safe environment to the things a person fears, and mindfulness-based CBT, which combines CBT methods with mindfulness meditative practices.
Health professionals may treat health anxiety with medication. Medications for health anxiety include antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).
If a medication helps a person with their health anxiety symptoms, medical professionals may recommend they take them for at least 6–12 months.
How to access treatment
People with health anxiety can access help and treatment in various ways.
- The National Institute of Mental Health has information on how to find a mental health professional and
other resourcesto find help for anxiety.
- FindTreatment.gov is a confidential and anonymous resource for people seeking treatment for mental and substance use disorders. Its search function allows people to find treatment facilities and other resources.
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a free national helpline for general information on mental health and local treatment services. It is confidential, open 24-7, and available in English and Spanish. People can use it by calling 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
The following self-help strategies may help some people with health anxiety symptoms:
- Keeping a diary: People can note how often they check their bodies, ask others for reassurance, or look at health information. They may wish to try to gradually reduce how often they do these things over a week.
- Challenging their thoughts: This can involve drawing a table with two columns, with health worries in one column and more neutral thoughts in the second. The second column may counter and balance out the concerns in the first.
- Keeping busy with other things: People can try calling a friend or going for a walk when they have the urge to check their bodies.
- Getting back into enjoyable activities: This may involve a person gradually starting to do things they may have avoided due to health worries, such as playing sports or socializing.
- Relaxing: Trying to relax with breathing or relaxation exercises may help with mild health anxiety.
The following are answers to questions people often ask about health anxiety.
How can a person stop having health anxiety?
Self-help measures may help some people manage or reduce mild health anxiety. Those with moderate to severe health anxiety may benefit from trying CBT and medication.
What triggers health anxiety?
Psychotherapists do not yet know the exact triggers of health anxiety. However, people who have existing anxiety disorders appear to have a higher risk of developing it. Other risk factors include certain childhood or familial experiences.
Can health anxiety cause physical and mental symptoms?
Health anxiety can cause mental and physical symptoms such as headaches or a fast heartbeat.
For more research-backed information and resources on mental health and well-being, visit our dedicated hub.
People with health anxiety often have persistent worries and fears about developing medical conditions, which can impact their quality of life.
Self-help strategies can help improve mild health anxiety symptoms. Doctors may also recommend psychotherapy and medication treatments for people with health anxiety that interferes with daily life.
Treatment can help improve a person’s anxiety symptoms and quality of life.