Health anxiety disorder, formerly known as hypochondriasis or hypochondria, is a condition wherein a person believes that he or she is seriously ill, with only a few or no symptoms.
Health Anxiety Disorder Overview
Health anxiety disorder or illness anxiety disorder is a condition that falls under the obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) spectrum of disorders. People who have this condition may have a preoccupation with the idea of being physically ill.
In some cases, individuals with hypochondriasis may misinterpret minor or normal body sensations as severe disease symptoms. Even if doctors or medical professionals have already confirmed and reassured that the patient has no disease, he or she may still keep worrying.
Common Signs of Health Anxiety Disorder
People with health anxiety disorder may experience persistent worry about their health. They often check their body for any signs and symptoms of the disease. These include pain, tingling, and the presence of lumps.
Some patients with the disorder may continuously ask others for reassurance that they are not sick. Also, they may think that the doctor may have missed something, or the laboratory tests are not accurate.
Today, the most common sign of health anxiety is the obsession with looking at health information on the internet. The patients with health anxiety disorder may look for serious diseases which are linked to the various symptoms they are feeling.
Other patients may become scared of seeing objects or programs which have something to do with a serious illness. The most common diseases which the patients look into are human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), and the various types of cancer.
Most patients may also act as if they are really sick. They may avoid certain physical activities or remain in bed for long periods.
Causes of Health Anxiety Disorder
There are many theories that suggest the cause of health anxiety.
The cognitive theory involves the catastrophic misinterpretations of sensations and symptoms. This means that the patient may misinterpret various sensations he or she feels.
Some individuals with a diagnosed disease may overestimate the seriousness of the condition. They may feel that there is an imminent threat to one’s health.
These misinterpretations may stem from certain bodily sensations. For instance, a patient may complain of a pounding heart. He or she may misinterpret this sensation as an impending heart attack.
Also, normal physical symptoms which may produce worry and fear among the patients with health anxiety include heart rate, blood pressure, depth of breathing, and muscle tone, among others.
Hence, the patients with health anxiety may experience physical sensations, but not symptoms of any disease. The medical test results come out negative, but the patients think that their symptoms are real.
The biological theory refers to the physiological and adaptive responses of the body to fear. Some people may develop anxiety disorders, such as hypochondriasis, as a result of their genetic predisposition. They are vulnerable to experiencing extreme fear or worry.
These individuals may be more sensitive, reactive, and excitable when faced with stress.
The psychological factors involve the person’s beliefs, thoughts, and perceptions. These may be linked to their environment, themselves, and their experiences.
As a result, these factors may take a toll on their sense of control over the environment or in the body. Also, these factors may influence one’s assessment and interpretation of certain events in the environment as either non-threatening or threatening.
Environmental or Social Causes
Theoretically, people develop an anxiety disorder when they have both psychological and biological susceptibilities. But, in some cases, people may develop health disorder from the social environment. These include social interactions, life experiences, and relationships with others.
Health Anxiety is a Mental Health Disorder that Needs Attention
People with health anxiety need professional help to aid in their treatment. Health anxiety persists despite reassurance from medical practitioners. Thus, patients may have a vicious cycle of medical tests, emergency room (ER) visits, and clinical consultations.
The patients may experience repeated sensations of illness, misinterpretation of symptoms, and anxiety attacks. Reassurance may provide temporary relief, but soon after, the cycle starts again.
Visiting a mental health doctor or psychologist can help diagnose the condition appropriately. So that, proper treatment options can be initiated to improve anxiety and its accompanying symptoms.
Reviewed by HH Patel, M.Pharm.
- What is Health Anxiety Disorder