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Health Anxiety 101

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.

How common is health anxiety?

Health Anxiety may be more prevalent than what the statistics currently show, which is estimated between four to 10 percent of the population. While this is a rough estimate, some predict that the actual numbers may be more significant than this due to the underreporting of the symptoms to mental health professionals.

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 causes health anxiety?

There can be various factors that contribute to the development of health anxiety, such as past experiences with illness, family history, underlying mental health conditions like other anxiety disorders, or exposure to medical traumatic events.

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!

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!

What if I don’t 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.

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.

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.

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.

When should one seek professional help for health anxiety?

There are two moments when it can be important to seek professional help around health anxiety. The first is when the anxiety that is associated with your health becomes distressing and begins to impact daily life and functioning. Feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, beginning to miss responsibilities due to excessive medical appointments, or having time stolen from you to do other valuable things because you are checking your body or researching online are some of the ways that health anxiety can begin to interfere with daily life. Secondly, even if we have received multiple negative test results that never seem to lessen the concern, it might be time to seek help. Although it may seem to be the most helpful thing to continue to assure ourselves with the answer, this can often cause the condition to become worse.

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 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!

How can one discuss their health anxiety with friends or family?

Sharing some of the same resources that are listed above that you can use for your health anxiety can be wonderful tools to pass along to family and loved ones to help better understand the dynamics of health anxiety. Many family members and loved ones ultimately do want to help but often don’t have a full understanding of the ways that health anxiety can make it so difficult to break away from its strong grasp. This can also take these important people in your life to a place of support for you as you are working through treatment.

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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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