All Posts Tagged: health anxiety

Does Breast Cancer Awareness Month Increase Health Anxiety?

It’s October and pink ribbons are popping up everywhere. While this time of year is good for reminding women to do their breast self-exams or get an annual mammogram, it also can be a month of great concern for women who suffer from health anxiety.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America defines health anxiety as “the misinterpretation of normal bodily sensations as dangerous.” It is the excessive fear of physical illness and women who have the disorder often find it difficult to cope with Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For these women, every new twinge or tiny pain in their breasts likely signals cancer.

People with health anxiety may be so overwhelmed by their fears that they find it hard to live a normal life. They can spend hours online researching a symptom, convinced that a minor symptom is a sign of a serious illness. When October rolls around, the stories of breast cancer survivors may drive a woman with health anxiety to compulsively examine her breasts, positive that every small bump is a tumor just waiting to kill her. Or, she might feel something as innocent as an itch in her breast and suffer severe anxiety because she’s surrounded by breast cancer images on the news and on social media. And, like too many people with health anxiety, she may beg her doctor for unnecessary tests and spend an exorbitant amount of time and money visiting doctors in the quest for a diagnosis that will never come.

What are the Symptoms of Health Anxiety?

Health Anxiety Disorder is also known as hypochondria. Roughly 1-5% of the population suffers from health anxiety. It’s estimated that those with hypochondria use about 10-13 times the health resources that the average person does.

People who suffer from health anxiety:

  • Frequently check their bodies for new pains, blemishes, lumps, or lesions
  • Live in terror that any new physical symptom is a sign of a serious or life-threatening disease
  • Research health problems obsessively
  • Compulsively check their vital signs, take their temperature, or monitor their blood pressure and pulse rate
  • Switch doctors frequently because their current physician can’t find anything wrong with them
  • Either avoid doctors altogether or go to numerous medical consultations
  • May have strained relationships with friends or family
  • Are reluctant to consider that anxiety and other psychosocial factors may be causing their symptoms

Who is at Risk of Developing Health Anxiety?

While there are no easy answers, the people who are most at risk of becoming hypochondriacs tend to be worriers. They may strongly believe that being in good health means you have no physical symptoms or sensations. Frequently, they know someone with a serious disease or they went through a serious illness themselves during their childhood. Additionally, health anxiety can be triggered by the death of a loved one.

Overcoming Health Anxiety

Often, patients with hypochondria are so resistant to the idea of having an anxiety disorder that it may take intervention from their loved ones to help them understand they need treatment.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is very effective for the treatment of health anxiety disorders. This type of therapy focuses on recognizing and understanding the false beliefs, thoughts, and actions that bring on the anxiety. Because people with hypochondria assign meanings to certain symptoms or sensations (“My breast is tender and that definitely means I have breast cancer”), CBT helps patients realize that it isn’t the symptom that causes the anxiety, it’s their reaction to the symptom that does.

By changing their mindset, a person with health anxiety learns to see a worrisome situation in a different way. Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches them how to stop the negative behaviors that reinforce the disorder.

It’s Important to Get Help for Health Anxiety

If you or someone you care about is overly worried about health concerns, it could be caused by health anxiety. Delaying treatment for hypochondria can cause complications such as depression and substance abuse, not to mention financial difficulties due to excessive medical costs or health risks from undergoing unnecessary procedures. Our compassionate mental health professionals are here to help. Contact the Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida for more information or call us today at 561-496-1094.

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Signs You May be a Hypochondriac

A hypochondriac is someone who lives with the fear that they have a serious, but undiagnosed medical condition, even though diagnostic tests show there is nothing wrong with them. Hypochondriacs experience extreme anxiety from the bodily responses most people take for granted. For example, they may be convinced that something as simple as a sneeze is the sign they have a horrible disease.

Hypochondria accounts for about five percent of outpatient medical care annually. More than 200,000 people are diagnosed with health anxiety (also known as illness anxiety disorder) each year.

Hypochondriac Symptoms

Hypochondria is a mental health disorder. It usually starts in early adulthood and may show up after the person or someone they know has gone through an illness or after they’ve lost someone to a serious medical condition. About two-thirds of hypochondriacs have a co-existing psychiatric disorder, such as panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), or major depression. Hypochondria symptoms can vary, depending on factors such as stress, age, and whether the person is already an extreme worrier.

Hypochondriac symptoms may include:

·         Regularly checking themselves for any sign of illness

·         Fearing that anything from a runny nose to a gurgle in their gut is the sign of a serious illness

·         Making frequent visits to their doctor

·         Conversely, avoiding the doctor due to fear that the doctor will find they have a dreaded disease or serious illness

·         Talking excessively about their health

·         Spending a lot of time online, researching their symptoms

·         May focus on just one thing: a certain disease (example: cancer) or a certain body part (example: the lungs if they cough). Or, they may fear any disease or might become focused on a trending disease (example: during flu season, they may be convinced that a sniffle means they’re coming down with the flu)

·         Are unconvinced that their negative medical tests are correct, then worry that they have something undiagnosed and that no one will be able to find it and cure them

·         Avoiding people or places they fear may cause them to get sick

Health anxiety can actually have its own symptoms because it’s possible for the person to have stomachaches, dizziness, or pain as a result of their overwhelming anxiety. In fact, illness anxiety can take over a hypochondriac’s life to the point that worrying and living in fear are so stressful, the person can become debilitated.

You may be wondering what triggers hypochondria. Although there really isn’t an exact cause, we do know that people with illness anxiety are more likely to have a family member who is also a hypochondriac. The person with health anxiety may have gone through a serious illness and fear that their bad experience may be repeated. They may be going through major life stress or have had a serious illness during childhood. Or, they may already be suffering from a mental health condition and their hypochondria may be part of it.

Hypochondriac Treatment

Often, when a person repeatedly runs to their doctor at the first sign of a minor symptom, their doctor doesn’t take them seriously and may consider them to be a “difficult patient,” rather than a person who is honestly concerned about their health. Worse, some doctors will take advantage of the person’s fears and may run unnecessary tests just to appease the patient. In fact, it’s been estimated that more than $20 billion is spent annually on unnecessary procedures and examinations.

Self-help for hypochondria can include:

  • Learning stress management and relaxation techniques
  • Avoiding online searches for the possible meanings behind your symptoms
  • Focusing on outside activities such as a hobby you enjoy or volunteer work you feel passionate about
  • Avoiding alcohol and recreational drugs, which can increase anxiety
  • Working to recognize that the physical signs you experience are not a symptom of something ominous, but are actually normal bodily sensations
  • Setting up a schedule for regular appointments with your primary care doctor to discuss your health concerns. Work with them to set a realistic limit on medical tests and specialist referrals.

Professional treatments for hypochondria include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is very helpful for reducing patient fears. In this type of therapy, the person learns to recognize and understand the false beliefs that set off their anxiety. Research has shown that CBT successfully teaches hypochondriacs to identify what triggers their behavior and gives them coping skills to help them manage it.
  • Behavioral stress management or exposure therapy may be helpful
  • Psychotropic medications, such as anti-depressants, are sometimes used to treat health anxiety disorder

It is worth noting that many sufferers are unwilling to acknowledge the role anxiety plays in their symptoms. This makes them less likely to seek help from a mental health professional. Often, hypochondriacs are so resistant to the idea that they have anxiety that it takes intervention from loved ones to help them understand that they need assistance.

Get Help for Health Anxiety Disorder

Being a hypochondriac and experiencing health anxiety can be debilitating. It can severely affect the lives of the people who suffer from it.  The mental health professionals at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida are experienced in helping those with illness anxiety. For more information, contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

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Emetophobia: The Fear of Vomiting

There are a number of mental health anxieties out there that most people are familiar with: panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder are great examples. In general, many people have at least heard of these conditions and most could somewhat understand them if they came up as a topic of conversation. That being said, however, there are a number of fears or anxieties that you’ve probably never heard of before. And, because you don’t know they exist, you may believe you’re struggling alone through concerns no one else will understand.

If you’re one of these people and you suffer with a fear of vomiting, first know that you are not alone. In fact, the fear of vomiting, officially known as emetophobia, is a phobia that affects millions of people. And, the good news is that help is available.

Understanding Emetophobia

It might be helpful to understand a little of what emetophobia entails. The fear of vomiting can present itself in a number of different ways:

  • Fear that you will throw up.
  • Fear that you will see someone else vomit.
  • Fear of the loss of control that can come with getting sick.
  • Fear that if you begin to vomit you won’t be able to stop.
  • Fear of death from throwing up.

It is interesting that most people who struggle with emetophobia do not actively worry about throwing up. Instead, the phobia rears up when they are put in a position where they feel like vomiting may occur. Here are a few examples of triggers that can exacerbate this fear:

  • Someone else vomiting: seeing this in person, watching it in a movie, or even hearing about it can have a negative effect and trigger their fears.
  • Hearing that a coworker is home with the flu.
  • Thinking of food or seeing or smelling a food item that has made them vomit before.
  • Seeing or hearing things that can be associated with throwing up, like a toilet or the sound of someone gagging.

Life Impact

The truth about vomiting is that none of us are very happy to talk about it or think about it. In fact, most of us will also do whatever it takes to avoid throwing up, just the same as someone who struggles with emetophobia. The difference between these types of people comes in two important areas: the level of worry involved and the impact that worry has on one’s life. When faced with the triggers noted above, the average person might flinch or groan, unhappy to be hearing about them. On the other hand, someone who struggles with emetophobia may have the following reactions:

  • They may do an analysis of themselves and how they’re feeling: Is my stomach hurting? Could that gas lead to something worse.
  • They may begin digging into the details of someone else’s illness to determine their own risk of getting sick.
  • They may search for signs of impending trouble: Did that coworker cough or gag? Did they (or I) eat the same thing as someone else who just got sick?

When a person has convinced themselves that their risk of throwing up is high, there are a number of ways it can impact their life. They may find themselves avoiding:

  • People they know are sick or who look sick.
  • Food they think could lead to vomiting
  • Eating in restaurants.
  • Drinking alcoholic beverages.
  • Friend’s babies or even their own baby, based on a concern that the baby is bound to throw up at some point.

Seeking Help

Though a fear of vomiting would seem to be a part of Health anxiety disorder (hypochondria), emetophobia is not the same thing. Treatment for emetophobia can even be a little more challenging at times, mostly because everyone who struggles with this type of anxiety has thrown up before or has been around their triggers without having their worst fears confirmed. Despite this, their anxieties continue and often strengthen over time.

That being said, there are plenty of ways that a psychotherapist can help sufferers learn to cope with this fear and reduce its impact on their life. As an example, Cognitive Behavior Therapy can help them recognize and understand the false beliefs that are triggering their phobia and anxiety. Exposure Therapy can also be useful to reduce the fears associated with their triggers.

Could you or someone you know benefit from professional assistance with emetophobia? Take action today to overcome your fears! For more information on treatment for emetophobia, Contact Dr. Rosen and The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida at 561-496-1094 or email Dr. Rosen and The Center today.

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Death Anxiety Disorder – Help in South Florida for Fear of Dying

The fear of dying, also known as death anxiety or thanatophobia, is much more prevalent than many of us may think. The concept of death – when it will occur and what happens afterward – is an unknown and we often fear what we don’t know.

It is important to understand the difference between everyday worrying and a full-blown death anxiety disorder. Throughout our lives, most of us will think of death at one time or another. For example, it may dwell in our minds as we age or when the death of a loved one occurs. However, this concern becomes classified as thanatophobia only when a person worries so often that it begins to affect their everyday lives. With this syndrome, every pain or unusual feeling becomes a warning sign for impending death.

For example:

  • A simple headache may lead to thoughts of brain tumors.
  • Chest pains may be considered signs of heart attack or heart failure.
  • The mildest sickness can suggest that death is right around the corner.

People who experience a fear of dying feel that each passing minute is reducing their life span bit by bit. To make things worse, this condition has the tendency to be communicable. Many people are too discouraged to spend time with someone who suffers from death anxiety but those who do may find themselves falling into the same line of thinking. It is easy for groups of thanatophobics to form and exacerbate the anxiety.

How do you know if you may be suffering from a fear of death? When a victim of death anxiety disorder considers their own mortality they may experience a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Feeling faint
  • Intense sweating
  • Queasiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Shaking limbs
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • An inability to speak or think clearly
  • Constant panic attacks
  • Uncontrollable nerves

The fear of death is a debilitating condition that can seriously deplete the joy in one’s life. People with this condition spend so much time worrying about their impending death that they rarely enjoy themselves in anything they do. If you or someone you know suffers from death anxiety disorder, seeking help is very important and will be extremely beneficial.

For more information to help you cope with a death anxiety disorder in the Boca Raton area, please contact Dr. Andrew Rosen at 561-496-1094 or email him today.

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