What is Health Anxiety?
Individuals with Health Anxiety, also known as Illness Anxiety Disorder, are extremely anxious, pre-occupied, and distressed about having or acquiring a serious illness. These fears are inappropriate or excessive and may include a misinterpretation of benign internal cues (e.g., heart racing), medical conditions (e.g., muscle strain, headache, cough) or physical abnormalities (e.g., rash, mole). Some individuals with health anxiety may have a diagnosed medical condition; however, the pre-occupation with and fears associated with this medical condition are considered to be excessive or disproportionate in relation to the actual threat.
Individuals with health anxiety may spend significant amounts of time worrying about their health, checking/inspecting their bodies for signs of illness (e.g., feeling for lumps), monitoring or recording their symptoms, searching the internet for illnesses they feel they either have or will get, looking for reassurance from others, talk excessively about their symptoms to others, etc. They may go to the doctor repeatedly looking for reassurance, struggle to believe feedback from doctor's that they don't have a medical problem, and may "doctor shop."
They may also avoid triggers all together. For example, they may avoid going to the doctor or hospital for fear of being diagnosed or found out to have a horrible grave illness, avoid being around other's with illnesses, avoid physical activity, etc.
Sometimes, health anxiety follows a traumatic experience involving ones health (e.g., cancer) or involving a loved one (e.g., watching a parent die of cancer), and the trauma may need to be addressed in addition to the health anxiety.
How do you Treat Health Anxiety?
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an effective and safe treatment for Health Anxiety. The goal of CBT for health anxiety is to help alter unhelpful ways of thinking and reduce or eliminate the avoidance, checking, safety-behaviors, etc. that maintain the individual's fears. In doing so, the individual can learn that they are over-estimating the likelihood of having/getting an illness and that they can tolerate and effectively manage their emotions and potential feared consequences.
At OakHeart, we are proud to offer CBT for Health Anxiety. To schedule an appointment, please call 630-570-0050.