You are here: Functional Disorders About Functional Disorders Health anxiety

Health anxiety

Health anxiety is a functional disorder. When suffering from health anxiety, the patient is tormented by a fear of suffering from serious diseases. The same way you can suffer from claustrophobia, i.e. the fear of having no escape and being closed in small spaces or rooms, others suffer from health anxiety.

For someone suffering from health anxiety, it is one's thoughts and the anxiety itself which constitute the problem. It is usually not the physical symptoms that torture the person the most.

A person suffering from health anxiety may temporarily be reassured by medical examinations showing no signs of a serious disease. However, that will not make the health anxiety go away.

Health anxiety is a disorder with some of the following symptoms:

  • You worry excessively about falling or being ill, and the ruminating thoughts are difficult to stop.
  • If you hear or read about a disease, you will be inclined to think that you have or will get the same disease.
  • Often, you have an exaggerated focus on information about health and diseases or an unrealistic fear of being contaminated by something you have e.g. touched or eaten.
  • Frequent fear of taking medication.
  • The state of fear has been present most of the time for at least two weeks.
  • The symptoms have to be exceptionally distracting or intervening in daily activities.

Incidence

Health anxiety is frequent and affects approx. 1 in 10 people. The disorder ranges from mild cases that are difficult to distinguish from the normal to severe cases with more and exceptionally distracting symptoms. Health anxiety normally begins at a young age and can be long-term.

In recent years, there has been a greater focus on health anxiety than previously. Health anxiety may be severely stressful both psychologically, physically and socially to the patient as well as the patient's closest relatives. Furthermore, people with health anxiety are at risk of being 'over-treated' with physical examinations as the patients often only feel temporarily reassured after having been examined.

It is important that both the GP and the patient recognise and acknowledge health anxiety, and that having this disorder is serious and disabling for the patient. With the right treatment, we can help the patient.

Treatment

An available treatment option is conversational therapy or medication, or a combination of both.

The psychotherapeutic treatment options most often used are based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), either as traditional cognitive behavioural therapy or a cognitive behavioural treatment termed Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

  • Traditional Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
    An identification of negative patterns of thought and behaviour and learning how to accept them.
  • ACT 
    Being better at coping with illness and life stress by learning how to focus on things you can change and control instead of energy consuming things that you have no control over. During therapy, we work on increasing the patient's focus on values and guiding the patient's actions towards a more valuable life. Furthermore, ACT focuses on a range of relaxation and awareness exercises (mindfulness meditation).
  • Medical treatment
    We use the same medication for health anxiety as for general anxiety disorders: antidepressant or anti-anxiety pills. The medication is usually slowly increased before a positive effect can be detected.

 

 

 

 

Comments on content: 
Revised 06.08.2013