What is health anxiety?
Health anxiety, also known as hypochondriasis, is an anxiety disorder whose sufferers worry that the physical symptoms and sensations they experience are indicative of something serious or deadly. They will make visits to their healthcare provider to have the symptoms checked out. Upon examination and diagnostic testing, the provider is unable to find a physical cause to explain the symptoms. The person is usually sent away without a diagnosis or treatment. In some cases, they may visit numerous healthcare providers to get second, third, and fourth opinions. At each provider, the patient is hopeful that something undiagnosed will be discovered.
Health anxiety is very similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder. They both share a mechanism known as “intolerance of uncertainty”. People with health anxiety and OCD have a difficult time living in doubt. Not knowing if a symptom or sensation is truly indicative of a serious medical condition is extremely distressing for these people. Getting reassurance from healthcare providers or loved ones is an attempt to reduce the anxiety and to provide some certainty. People with health anxiety will regularly scan their body for any signs of changes or increased symptoms. Any apparent change will increase anxiety and lead to further follow up with healthcare professionals. Sufferers also search the internet and other resources to learn as much as they can about the condition they’re worried about. Unfortunately, this usually leads to more worry and anxiety.
What can be done to help health anxiety?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy provides effective treatment for health anxiety. Using a technique called Exposure and Response Prevention, clients learn coping strategies to face their anxiety by decreasing the need for certainty.
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