What is Health Anxiety Disorder?

what is health anxiety

It is pretty easy to equate our health to our wealth these days.

The same methods of research used to make more money get used more frequently to check every health issue or attempt a self-diagnosis. However, doing so can create additional anxiety and stress and be more detrimental to our health.

However, the unintended result of internet use is that instead of going to the doctor when not feeling well, many people check their symptoms online to see what illness they align.

The problem is that since the internet has few controls over who can write or publish materials, researchers end up with unnecessary anxiety and stress after reading unfiltered information about health disorders.

 What is Health Anxiety Disorder?

Once known as hypochondria, health anxiety disorder is when someone worries obsessively about their health. Instead of focusing on having good health, a person with a health anxiety disorder worries negatively and irrationally about having a severe medical or health issue. Unfortunately, it is a disorder that cannot be prevented.

A person with a health anxiety disorder doesn’t limit their health issues to the internet or their imagination; they also may go to doctors, several of them. However, instead of believing the doctors’ reassurances that nothing is wrong and their health is good, they believe what they want to think about having a severe illness.

health anxiety disorder hypochondria

Unlike a person who is genuinely concerned about their health who goes to see a doctor for a particular health concern, a person with a health anxiety disorder has a chronic fear of having a severe health condition or disease. Therefore, they misinterpret every minor symptom or change to their body as a severe illness. A person with a health anxiety disorder checks the same lump or bump over and over, convinced that it is getting bigger or somehow changing.

For individuals suffering from hypochondria, the fear of having a severe health issue can be so intense and irrational that it can paralyze them. It doesn’t paralyze them literally, however, it makes them become immobile and debilitated that they sit don’t do anything except let their imagination wander.

Health anxiety disorder can impair a person’s social and occupational functioning and make it hard to live everyday life.

Although health anxiety disorder is highly complex, it is also an infrequent disorder, affecting less than 0.1%. It usually begins in the teenage years but can strike both men and women.

Other Behaviors of a Person Suffering a Health Anxiety Disorder

  • They avoid doctor appointments because they fear being diagnosed with a severe illness.
  • They seek reassurances about their health from non-professionals.
  • They avoid going out for fear of catching disease or condition.
  • They overshare their symptoms with friends, family, and coworkers.
  • They are preoccupied with certain diseases for several months at a time.
  • They screen their own body for signs of illness over and over.

What Causes Health Anxiety Disorder

Although there are no scientifically known causes for health anxiety disorder, doctors and experts believe some triggers affect certain people. Some of those reasons are:

  • They can research unfiltered information on the internet.
  • They learned the benefits of being sick – getting more attention.
  • They have a parent or relative that has a health anxiety disorder.
  • They suffered childhood trauma – such as rape or abuse.
  • They have a distorted sense of reality.
  • They have other psychological or mental health issues.
  • They were seriously ill in the past and scared. of it happening again.

Diagnosing Health Anxiety Disorder

Like anxiety, health anxiety disorder is a psychological, mental health issue. Therefore, to diagnose, a primary care doctor may refer a patient to a mental health professional who has more experience diagnosing and treating mental health issues. That doctor will:

  • Perform a physical examination.
  • Question you about your symptoms, any stressful situations, your current worries, and your family history.
  • Recommend blood tests to rule out specific issues like hyperthyroidism.
  • They will perform a psychological evaluation and ask you to complete an assessment of a questionnaire.
  • They will ask you about your alcohol or other substance abuse issues.

Treating Health Anxiety Disorder

There are various methods of treatment for health anxiety disorder.

However, your doctor will focus on treating the symptoms displayed and helping you resume your everyday life. The two primary forms of treatment for health anxiety disorder include psychotherapy and medications.

Continue reading for more information on both.


Psychotherapy is also known as talk therapy and has been beneficial to helping individuals with mental health issues. While it is likely to be just the patient and the therapist, it can also be a family session, couples sessions, or group sessions. Psychotherapy is helpful because talking through issues either helps eliminate or control the patient’s troubling symptoms and leads to healing.

therapist for health anxiety

Therapy sessions for health anxiety disorder can go on for several weeks to several months and are typically scheduled for 40-50 minutes each session. For therapy sessions to be successful, there must be trust between the patient and the therapist. That means that the patient must trust and incorporate the advice given by the therapist and trust that the therapist is keeping their information confidential.

One of the most common types of psychotherapy used to treat health anxiety disorders is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT. This type of therapy is gradual and changes a person’s perception of situations. Cognitive-behavioral therapy aims to change the individual’s behaviors and irrational thoughts about their health

Some methods of doing that about health anxiety disorder are:

  • They will ask you about your alcohol or other substance abuse issues.
  • Identifying the beliefs that make them believe they are sick.
  • Identifying where the anxiety began.
  • Teaching them ways to deal with anxiety.
  • Determine if the patient is suffering from other mental health illnesses.
  • Finding different ways to deal with body sensations or changes.
  • Teaching patients how to deal with signs or triggers of illness.
  • Guiding the patient toward a healthy social and occupational life.

Medication for Health Anxiety

Medication is often used in conjunction with therapy for individuals dealing with hypochondria.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most commonly prescribed. As antidepressants, they increase the serotonin that goes to the brain, thus controlling how an individual feels.

Complications From Untreated Health Anxiety Disorder

Although health anxiety disorder is hard to cope with, you know there is help out there for you if you have gotten this far. Understanding that you are not alone is the first thing you should know. Left untreated, health anxiety disorder can lead to depression, and patients can even become suicidal.

In addition, an untreated anxiety disorder can put individuals at risk for:

  • Disability
  • Unnecessary medical tests
  • Unnecessary medical bills
  • Unemployment
  • Financial hardship

How Family and Friends Can Help

Although you aren’t a professional health care provider, as a family member or friend of someone dealing with this disorder, there are several things that you can do to help. While it would be easy to tell the sufferer to “Snap out of it,” “get a grip,” or “stop faking illness,” those are three things that you want to avoid. Instead, some tips to help are:

  • Encourage getting out or pursuing hobbies.
  • Ease into conversations gradually.
  • Offer support – driving them to doctor’s appointments or treatment.
  • Don’t talk about someone else’s health issues.
  • Try to provide a sense of normalcy.
  • Listen but work to make the topics of discussion positive.
  • Don’t take it personally if the sufferer gets silent or cold.


As you have read, although everyone worries about their health, those with health anxiety disorder are different.

Formerly called hypochondria, it is a disorder where someone worries obsessively about their health. Sufferers of health anxiety disorder irrationally obsess over their health and fear serious health challenges. While there are no scientific causes for health anxiety disorder, sufferers could also be dealing with other mental health issues.

Getting treatment for health anxiety disorder is vital for effective and efficient treatment. Therefore, primary care doctors usually send patients to a qualified psychotherapist for treatment. Getting to the root of the problem and resuming a sense of normalcy is the goal of therapy.