Health Anxiety Symptoms and How to Find Treatment
Someone struggling with health anxiety symptoms (also known as illness anxiety disorder) has a preoccupation with physical symptoms that have no viable basis. According to the U. S. National Library of Medicine, this preoccupation reaches a point where a full-blown anxiety disorder takes shape.
Health anxiety symptoms represent an inaccurate perception of the body’s condition, with sufferers convinced that a serious medical condition exists. Health anxiety symptoms must persist for six months or longer in order for a full-blown anxiety disorder to be at work.
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Health Anxiety Symptoms
Physical symptoms of illness anxiety disorder can develop out of the ongoing worry and fear a person experiences. Granted, he or she may actually have a verifiable medical condition, such as a benign cyst; but their reaction is out of proportion to the reality of the situation.
The same goes for someone who has a family history of certain medical conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes. A person may show no signs whatsoever of developing illness, but is nonetheless convinced that he or she has contracted the “family” illness.
Health anxiety symptoms tend to be more so behavioral as no real medical condition exists in many cases. Behavioral symptoms may take the form of:
- Uncontrollable fears and worries about a perceived symptom
- Worries over one condition may be replaced with worries over another, new condition
- Needing ongoing reassurance from loved ones and health care providers that everything is ok
- Examining one’s body for symptoms on a regular basis
- Going to the doctor on a frequent basis
Finding Treatment for Health Anxiety Symptoms
As no two people develop health anxiety symptoms in the same way, the treatment approach used can vary from person-to-person. Treatment options include psychotherapy and/or medication depending on the severity of a person’s condition.
Persistent feelings of anxiety and fear create a certain degree of psychological dysfunction in terms of the types of thinking patterns and belief system a person holds. For this reason, psychotherapy treatment approaches work to undo the mindset that promotes health anxiety symptoms.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses on helping a person identify the destructive thinking patterns that trigger health anxiety symptoms. Another approach known as exposure therapy gradually exposes the patient to situations that incite anxiety in an effort to desensitize him or her to the fear.
Once health anxiety symptoms reach a certain point, chemical imbalances start to take shape in the brain. Under these conditions, treatment providers combine medication treatment with ongoing psychotherapy to better manage symptom severity. As it’s not uncommon for anxiety-based disorders to trigger depression symptoms, both antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications may be used.
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According to Harvard Health, health anxiety symptoms can predispose a person to developing serious, chronic medical conditions, including:
- Gastrointestinal conditions
- Heart disease
- Respiratory disorders
Without needed treatment help, anxiety symptoms worsen over time making a person more vulnerable to developing chronic medical disorders.