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Health Anxiety's Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

In this section, we address many of the most common questions and misconceptions related to health anxiety, including assessments of the various kids of health anxiety, diagnostic questions, treatment considerations, confusion around the interplay between medical issues and psychiatric issues, concerns about co-occurring issues, and ways to best communicate with your healthcare providers.  If there are questions you have, we’d love to answer them (and you might just see them listed down below), email us at

What exactly is health anxiety?

Health anxiety, also known as Illness Anxiety Disorder, Somatic Symptom Disorder, or Hypochondriasis, is a condition where an individual excessively worries about having a serious medical condition, even though they have been able to obtain a “clean bill of health” through qualified medical providers. The individual may experience no physical symptoms, mild physical symptoms, or even more severe physical symptoms that do not relate to the feared medical condition itself but can create significant fear if the feared medical condition is occurring.

What is Illness Anxiety Disorder?

Illness Anxiety Disorder is defined as the presence of excessive worries about medical illness even though there are no tests, assessments, or conclusions that would support these concerns through qualified medical providers. In Illness Anxiety Disorder, the individual experiences very mild or no physical symptoms. These concerns are often responded to through mental or physical actions such as internet searching for symptoms, visiting medical providers in excess, or mental reassurance.

What is Somatic Symptom Disorder?

Somatic Symptom Disorder is defined as the presence of excessive worries about medical illness even though there are no tests, assessments, or conclusions that would support these concerns through qualified medical providers. In Somatic Symptom Disorder, the individual experiences moderate to at times, severe physical symptoms. These concerns are often responded to through mental or physical actions such as internet searching for symptoms, visiting medical providers in excess, or mental reassurance.

What are the common symptoms of health anxiety?

Symptoms may include both mental and behavioral actions that are centered around the concern of something medically catastrophically wrong. This may include mental experiences such as intrusive, scary thoughts/ doubts about illnesses, attempting to rationalize or reason with yourself that the dreaded illness outcome is false, words/ phrases/ mantras that provide yourself reassurance, mental body scanning of how certain body parts or areas of the body feel,  etc. Also, there may be behaviors that can be seen as symptoms as well including: making frequent trips to the ER/ Urgent Care/ Doctor, checking yourself for lumps/ bumps/ etc, checking your pulse, checking your blood pressure, and spending excessive amounts of time on the internet looking up symptoms. While we may all engage in some of these behaviors from time to time, the frequency and intensity of these symptoms usually begin to interfere with life for the health anxiety sufferer.

Can health anxiety cause physical symptoms

Yes, it can lead to physical manifestations like headaches, digestive issues, muscle tension, and other stress-related symptoms. Health Anxiety can often cause a difficult cycle of physical sensations and emotional reactions that can be a “catch-22.” If your concern is about your heart, sensations that may come from your chest (such as rapid heartbeat) can be a result of a medical symptom (heart attack) or a psychological symptom (anxiety). Often, if we notice a rapid heartbeat, it will trigger our anxiety, which unfortunately then creates a rapid heartbeat. However, a rapid heartbeat may then prove to be an alarming health anxiety trigger that something is wrong with our hearts. Oftentimes, the physical symptoms experienced can increase anxiety, and the increased anxiety can produce more physical symptoms, and so on.

If anxiety and medical conditions can create similar symptoms, how do I know which one is which?

Boy, oh boy, do we wish we could give you a definitive answer for this one. But unfortunately, we cannot. Truthfully, if this answer was out there, would Health Anxiety even exist? Once we have a reasonably “clean bill of health” from a qualified medical provider, we begin to find ways to accept some of the uncertainty around the endless possibilities around our health while relying on the “pretty good answer” we currently have. Are these answers perfect? No! But they may be good enough to get back to important activities in our lives!

How is Health Anxiety different from legitimate medical concerns?

It is understandable to say that if you are diagnosed with a medical condition it can be anxiety-provoking. However, if you are diagnosed with a medical condition, and attempting to cope with this diagnosis, it is often considered to be anxiety surrounding a major life adjustment. The difference between this and health anxiety would be that no medical diagnosis has been made and concerns around the possibility of a diagnosis become excessive and interrupt life activities. Either way, there are some helpful ways to approach both of these scenarios with tools to be able to help you focus less on your medical status and more on valuable life activities and pursuits.

Should I go see a physician even if I have Health Anxiety?

Yes! Look, we are not medical doctors so if you have a symptom that is new, serious, or totally out of the ordinary, go get that checked out by a doctor. Even though we want you to learn to manage your health anxiety, it’s important to take reasonable precautions around your health. However, if you have sought treatment multiple times for the same concern, always to have the same negative test results, it may be time to do something different!

Can health anxiety affect relationships with healthcare providers?

Yes, health anxiety can strain relationships with healthcare providers due to frequent doctor visits, requests for unnecessary tests or treatments, and distrust of medical advice. It’s important for individuals with health anxiety to communicate openly with their healthcare providers and seek appropriate support.

What if I don’t trust or feel understood by my physician?

You deserve to have quality healthcare and to feel like you can trust your healthcare professional. It is also difficult since doubt around our medical health can also feel like we don’t trust our healthcare professional. However, if you ever feel not listened to, disregarded, or dismissed by your healthcare team, that is a noteworthy experience to possibly consider a change.

Can health anxiety affect daily life or relationships?

Absolutely. Actually, this is built into the fabric of all mental health diagnoses which indicates that these symptoms need to progress for a certain period of time (usually 6 months), create distress, and impair functioning in life. Health anxiety can have implications for individuals financially (medical testing/treatment is expensive!) and can affect the relationships that you have with others. Additionally, the time that it costs the health anxiety sufferers’ schedule to attend various appointments or even spend hours searching on the internet for symptoms is often in direct contrast to the valuable and meaningful activities that they could be doing at that point in time.

Can health anxiety impact sexual health or relationships?

Yes, health anxiety can impact sexual health and relationships by causing distress, performance anxiety, or avoidance of intimacy due to fears of transmitting or contracting illnesses. Open communication and seeking support from a healthcare provider or therapist can help address these concerns.

I heard someone say “compulsions” when talking about health anxiety. Is health anxiety OCD?

In short, it can be but not all of the time. Many anxiety specialists consider Health Anxiety to operate just like OCD, as it often has the same cycle of obsessions around our health and corresponding compulsions to attempt to deal with the associated fear. If you have anxiety around your health but no other areas that are significantly impacted by fear, you might fall into the category of Health Anxiety. For others, you may also recognize that you may have other OCD triggers such as contamination concerns, intrusive thoughts about harm, sexuality, etc that you also experience alongside your health anxiety. If this is the case, you may have OCD with “health themes.” Either way, the way that Health Anxiety functions is going to be the same and require a similar approach to treatment.

When should one seek professional help for health anxiety?

 It’s important to seek professional help if health anxiety significantly interferes with daily functioning, relationships, or quality of life. If you find yourself constantly preoccupied with health worries, experiencing distressing physical symptoms, or avoiding medical care out of fear, consider reaching out to a mental health professional for support and guidance.

Can health anxiety be completely disappear?

It is widely thought that conditions such as anxiety disorders don’t “go away” or there is no known cure for an anxiety disorder. However, before that sounds too disheartening, it is important to know that while health anxiety may never go away, much like a dormant volcano, it isn’t always active. Preparing yourself as an anxiety specialist and working through effective treatment, suffering from health anxiety can be a thing of the past!

What treatments are available for health anxiety?

Treatments include therapy (such as cognitive-behavioral therapy), medications (like antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs), or a combination of both. This would be, of course, after undergoing a medical evaluation to rule out medical explanations for the experienced symptoms.

Is there research supporting the use of CBT for Health Anxiety?

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is widely recognized as one of the most effective treatments for health anxiety. Numerous scientific studies have investigated the efficacy of CBT in managing health anxiety symptoms and improving overall well-being. Here are a few key studies highlighting the effectiveness of CBT for health anxiety:

  1. Study Title: “Cognitive-behavioral therapy for hypochondriasis/health anxiety: A meta-analysis of treatment outcome and moderators”
    • Authors: Axel W. Mueller, Jan Bolwinkel, and Winfried Rief
    • Published in: Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 2016
    • Summary: This meta-analysis examined 24 studies involving CBT interventions for hypochondriasis (health anxiety). The results demonstrated significant reductions in health anxiety symptoms following CBT treatment, with effect sizes in the moderate to large range. The study also identified certain factors, such as therapist-guided exposure and longer treatment duration, that were associated with better treatment outcomes.
  2. Study Title: “Internet-delivered cognitive-behavioural therapy for severe health anxiety: Randomised controlled trial”
    • Authors: Erik Hedman, Brjánn Ljótsson, et al.
    • Published in: The British Journal of Psychiatry, 2014
    • Summary: This randomized controlled trial investigated the efficacy of internet-delivered CBT (iCBT) for severe health anxiety. Participants were randomly assigned to receive either iCBT or a control intervention. The results showed that iCBT led to significant reductions in health anxiety symptoms compared to the control group, with improvements maintained at a 1-year follow-up.
  3. Study Title: “Effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy for hypochondriasis: A 7-year follow-up”
    • Authors: Erik Hedman, Brjánn Ljótsson, et al.
    • Published in: Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 2013
    • Summary: This study examined the long-term effectiveness of CBT for hypochondriasis by conducting a 7-year follow-up of participants who had previously completed a randomized controlled trial of CBT. The results demonstrated sustained improvements in health anxiety symptoms over the 7-year period, indicating the enduring benefits of CBT for hypochondriasis.
  4. Study Title: “Effectiveness of a brief cognitive-behavioral intervention for patients with hypochondriacal health anxiety”
    • Authors: Karin S. Nakao, Winfried Rief, et al.
    • Published in: General Hospital Psychiatry, 2008
    • Summary: This study evaluated the effectiveness of a brief CBT intervention for patients with hypochondriacal health anxiety. The intervention consisted of six sessions focusing on cognitive restructuring and exposure techniques. The results demonstrated significant reductions in health anxiety symptoms immediately following the intervention, with sustained improvements at a 6-month follow-up.

These studies provide robust evidence supporting the effectiveness of CBT in treating health anxiety. CBT techniques, such as cognitive restructuring, exposure therapy, and behavioral experiments, are specifically tailored to address maladaptive thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors associated with health anxiety, leading to significant symptom reduction and improved quality of life for individuals experiencing this condition.

Are there support groups or online resources available?

There sure is! You can check out our free virtual support group here:

Or head on over to our resources page HERE and check out our book HERE!

Can mindfulness or relaxation techniques help manage symptoms of health anxiety?

Yes, mindfulness practices, relaxation techniques (such as progressive muscle relaxation or guided imagery), and mindfulness-based therapies (such as mindfulness-based stress reduction or MBSR) can be effective tools for managing symptoms of health anxiety and promoting emotional well-being.

What makes the cycle of health anxiety continue?

Compulsions or safety behaviors. This part of health anxiety (and we are talking about actions such as searching the internet for symptoms, excessively visiting the doctor, or asking your family members for reassurance) is what makes the cycle continue due to the reinforcing nature that it has on the condition. Compulsions serve to reinforce the danger signals that your brain sends to you when it is faced with an alarming idea (such as the possibility of having cancer). When a compulsion is performed, it confirms the concern has validity and it creates a sense of temporary relief from the associated anxiety. This relief feels much better than the discomfort of the anxiety (understandably), which in the future will make seeking relief even more tempting!

How is health anxiety diagnosed?

Health anxiety is typically diagnosed by a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist or other licensed metal health professionals , through a comprehensive evaluation of symptoms and medical history. The diagnosis may involve ruling out other medical or psychiatric conditions that could better explain the symptoms.

Is it common to have health anxiety during times of stress or uncertainty?

Yes, periods of increased stress or uncertainty, such as during a global pandemic or after experiencing a significant life event, can exacerbate health anxiety symptoms for some individuals. Heightened media coverage of health-related issues may also contribute to increased anxiety.

Can health anxiety be exacerbated by exposure to media or news coverage of health-related events?

Yes, exposure to sensationalized or alarming media coverage of health-related events, such as disease outbreaks or medical emergencies, can exacerbate health anxiety symptoms and increase feelings of fear and uncertainty. Limiting exposure to triggering media content may help manage anxiety.

Can health anxiety be cured?

While there is no definitive “cure” for health anxiety or other anxiety disorders, since they can come and go over the years, many individuals are able to manage their symptoms effectively with appropriate treatment and support. Learning to recognize and challenge anxious thoughts, developing healthy coping mechanisms, and addressing underlying issues contributing to anxiety can lead to significant improvement in symptoms and overall quality of life.

Is it possible for health anxiety to improve without professional treatment?

While some individuals may experience temporary relief from health anxiety symptoms without professional treatment, long-term improvement typically requires intervention from mental health professionals. Untreated health anxiety can persist and worsen over time, impacting various aspects of life.

How can friends and family members support someone with health anxiety?

Friends and family members can support someone with health anxiety by offering empathy, understanding, and encouragement to seek professional help. They can also help by avoiding reassurance-seeking behaviors and gently encouraging the individual to challenge some of the actions that they often perform such as searching online for symptoms, checking vital signs, etc.

Can health anxiety coexist with other mental health conditions?

es, health anxiety often coexists with other mental health conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and depression. Treatment may need to address multiple underlying issues simultaneously.

Is it common for individuals with health anxiety to self-diagnose using online resources?

 Yes, individuals with health anxiety may frequently search for information about symptoms and medical conditions online, often leading to self-diagnosis and heightened anxiety. It’s important to use reputable sources of information and consult with healthcare professionals for accurate assessment and guidance.

Can health anxiety cause panic attacks or anxiety attacks?

Yes, health anxiety can trigger panic attacks or anxiety attacks, especially when individuals become overwhelmed by fearful thoughts and bodily sensations related to perceived health threats. Learning coping strategies to manage anxiety can help reduce the frequency and intensity of these episodes.

Can certain medications or substances worsen symptoms of health anxiety?

Yes, certain medications (such as stimulants or corticosteroids) and substances (such as caffeine or recreational drugs) can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety, including health anxiety. It’s important to discuss any concerns about medication or substance use with a medically licensed healthcare provider.

Can health anxiety manifest as fear of specific illnesses or conditions?

Yes, health anxiety can manifest as fear of specific illnesses or conditions, known as illness phobia or nosophobia. Common fears may include cancer, heart disease, infectious diseases, or neurological disorders, among others.

Can health anxiety lead to financial difficulties due to excessive healthcare spending?

Yes, health anxiety can lead to financial difficulties when individuals spend excessively on healthcare-related expenses, such as doctor visits, diagnostic tests, medications, and alternative treatments, in an attempt to alleviate anxiety or seek reassurance.

Can health anxiety be triggered by traumatic events or experiences?

Yes, traumatic events or experiences, such as serious illness, accidents, or loss of a loved one, can trigger or exacerbate health anxiety in susceptible individuals. Trauma-focused therapies may be helpful in addressing underlying issues contributing to health anxiety. It is important to note that not all health anxiety is triggered just by traumatic experiences and that many people report an increased level of anxiety around their health even with no significant medical history.

Can health anxiety manifest as obsessive-compulsive behaviors related to cleanliness or hygiene?

Yes, health anxiety can manifest as obsessive-compulsive behaviors (OCD) related to cleanliness, hygiene, or contamination fears. Individuals may engage in excessive handwashing, cleaning rituals, or avoidance behaviors to reduce perceived health risks.

Can health anxiety lead to depression or other mood disorders?

Yes, health anxiety can coexist with depression and other mood disorders, particularly when individuals experience prolonged distress, impairment in functioning, or significant interference with daily life. Comprehensive assessment and treatment may be necessary to address both anxiety and mood symptoms.

Can you develop health anxiety about someone else?

Yes. While the symptoms of health anxiety usually revolve around the individual themselves, it is not uncommon for some of these fears to be applied to other important people around you. Fearing for the medical well-being of family members and other loved ones can take shape in a similar cycle but it focuses on the other person and not yourself.

Can health anxiety affect decision-making regarding medical treatment or procedures?

Yes, health anxiety can influence decision-making regarding medical treatment or procedures by causing indecision, fear of side effects or complications, or reluctance to undergo necessary interventions. Collaborating with healthcare providers and seeking second opinions can provide reassurance and support in making informed decisions.

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This website is an online resource designed to empower you on your personal growth journey to overcome health anxiety. Online resources can provide valuable insights, practical tips, and motivation for positive change. However, it’s important to acknowledge their limitations. This website is not a substitute for professional psychological services, nor is it designed to assess or diagnose your particular situation. While the guidance and recommendations within this site can offer support, practical exercises, and encouragement, it may not address your specific circumstances or replace the expertise of trained professionals. Mental health issues are complex and multifaceted, requiring personalized, evidence-based interventions tailored to individual needs. If you find yourself struggling with persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, or any other mental health concern, we urge you to seek help from a licensed mental health professional. Your mental health is a priority.

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