Health anxiety, or hypochondriasis, is a preoccupation with the belief that you have, or may develop, a serious disease or illness– despite thorough medical evaluation and reassurance. People with severe health anxiety interpret, or misinterpret, bodily sensations as threatening, or believe they are indicators of a serious problem with their health.
Common bodily sensations that we misinterpret include changes in heart rate, vision, breathing, balance, or muscle tone. Individuals with health anxiety typically have been to multiple doctors and specialists, only to hear the same responses: “Stop worrying, you’re fine,” or “There are no findings that explain your symptoms,” or “We’re pretty sure this is anxiety, you need to relax and stop worrying.”
Despite their best efforts, people with health anxiety cannot “just relax.” Rather, they become distraught, obsessive, scared, and continue to seek reassurance. We may constantly ask our loved ones how they know we’re all right, re-visit doctors, check our symptoms on the Internet (which usually sparks new anxiety), or check our blood pressure or pulse.
Ultimately, health anxiety can disturb our relationships, or impair our ability to work. If you or someone you love suffers from this condition, I urge you to get help–there are effective treatments based on scientific research for this problem.