Emma spends hours looking up her symptoms on the internet. She keeps remembering the doctor’s voice as he said a brain tumor could grow any time. Why would he tell her that unless something was wrong? He said she was fine but how do you explain the headaches and the dizziness she is feeling right now? There must be something wrong. She tries to get some sleep, but after some minutes, she gets back to the computer to check out more information. The Google search says that brain tumor symptoms include what she is experiencing. Her anxiety heightens, and she now has a growing urge to call the doctor even though its late.
Emma has health anxiety. People with health anxiety fear severe illness. They are afraid they have cancer, HIV, or dementia. This fear can affect their daily life and leads them to seek the doctor for unnecessary testing. Worry consumes them and sometimes this worry is focused on their children’s health.
Health anxiety is common and affects both women and men. However, not everyone who worries about their health has health anxiety. Concern on your health is not health anxiety. It’s okay to be worried about your health occasionally. Wondering if that persistent back pain is a sign of a severe condition is okay. If you’ve previously had a particular illness, you may be worried about an upcoming test, and that’s normal.
There is a difference between a person who has symptoms and one with no or minimal symptoms that frequently worries. Health anxiety patients misinterpret and attribute benign or normal symptoms to severe conditions. For example, if they get numb from sleeping on their arm, they won’t roll over and shake off the numbness. Instead, they will worry they are having a stroke. Anxiety symptoms include chest pain, muscle pain, headaches, dizziness, heart rate changes and many more.
A primary physician will notice this pattern from a person with health anxiety over time. They are the patients who call seven times a week or visit the doctor every 3 or 4 months to take tests even though they have no symptoms. These tests do not provide relief to a person with health anxiety, especially when it becomes uncontrollable. They will not feel reassured or get calm when the analyses dispel their fear. No amount of testing will calm their nerves and may reinforce the anxiety.
There are ways to tell if you have health anxiety. They include:
⦁ Fearing that you are sick, although you have no symptoms
⦁ You are still nervous even after the doctor said you have no illness or tests done show a healthy person.
⦁ You are always online looking for health information
⦁ News about a disease on a news story or television leads to worry that you may have the disease
⦁ Your health worries start interfering with your work, family, friends, activities, and hobbies.
In some other cases, patients with health anxiety will avoid doctors altogether. Not going to the doctor means that some treatable conditions may go unnoticed. For example, failure to go for a cancer screening since you want no bad news can become very dangerous if you have cancer.
The good news is that health anxiety is treatable. However, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, only 36.9% of those with anxiety disorders seek treatment. It may be due to the stigma associated with people with anxiety disorders. However, these people may not see the symptoms as caused by anxiety. They genuinely think they are sick and may not have information about how to get help.
To help them, do not tell a person with health anxiety that they are faking their symptoms or that the signs are all in their head. Instead, encourage them to observe the consequences of their worries to their lives. If you have health anxiety, focus on how it’s interfering things you love. For example, instead of going to that show you like, you are at the doctor’s waiting for results to a test you already took two weeks ago. Seek medical help and get treated for the disorder.
People with health anxiety also tend to have other mental health conditions. In this case, seek treatment for all the issues. Treatment can include medication, or psychotherapy to help you manage your worries and eventually move past them. Those who seek help will overcome their anxiety.