All Posts Tagged: hypochondria

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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Holiday Stress And Anxiety – Tips to Help You Cope

As the holiday season approaches, the stress level increases for everyone. There is so much pressure associated with this time of joy: pressure to get the right gifts, to shop among the harried crowds, to attend the vast variety of festivities. Nearly everyone goes through some form of holiday stress and anxiety, but for people who already suffer from anxiety disorders, the festive season can be nearly unbearable.

If you find yourself becoming sick at the idea of attending the first holiday party, it would be wise to seek the aid of a mental health professional to address your anxiety concerns. They can help you find appropriate relief from your fears through specialized therapy. In the meantime, however, the following tips will help you work through this joyous, but stress-filled time:

  • Get specific about your concerns and work toward solutions. If you’re worried about money, suggest a gift exchange instead of traditional gift-giving. If the holiday shopping crowds stress you out, complete your shopping online.
  • Ask for help. If you’re worried about hosting dinner for your entire family, ask each member to bring a dish. If you’re concerned you won’t get the correct gifts, ask for suggestions.
  • Let go of that perfect holiday image. Things never go exactly as planned. If you expect everything to be perfect you are bound to be disappointed and your anxiety will shoot off the charts. Set realistic expectations and you’ll enjoy the holidays much more.
  • Treat yourself well. Pamper yourself and allow yourself to indulge. Work up a sweat through ice skating or other exercise. Physical exertion is a great aid in reducing stress at any time.
  • Be choosy about the social engagements you attend. It’s not necessary to participate in all of them and it’s perfectly all right to attend only the parties with the people you’re most comfortable with.
  • If you have lost a loved one – find a way to remember them. It may as simple as playing the person’s favorite music or visiting his or her grave (make sure to bring along family or friends who can help you cope).

Often, the holiday season brings joy but also holiday stress and anxiety. But with a little planning you can enjoy the season along with everyone else. For more information or for help in dealing with holiday stress and anxiety, call Dr. Andrew Rosen and The Center for Treatment of Anxiety Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida. They specialize in helping those who fear the holidays. Take the first step by calling 561-496-1094 or by emailing Dr. Rosen and The Center today.

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Health Anxiety Disorder

Across the country, millions of people are plagued by a persistent fear that they are suffering, or will suffer, from a disease or other serious medical condition. This is known as health anxiety disorder, or hypochondria. Every year, as many as 14 percent of patients who are examined for health problems are actually experiencing hypochondria. Sufferers of this disorder tend to feel very real physical symptoms, such as:

  • Tenderness
  • Dizziness
  • Swelling
  • Palpitations
  • Pain

Fortunately, when these people visit a doctor with their concerns, tests reveal that there is nothing wrong. Unfortunately, as a result, they’re usually told the symptoms are imagined. Doctors don’t take them seriously and often consider them to be “difficult patients” rather than genuinely concerned individuals. On the other hand, some doctors are more likely to run unnecessary tests just to appease the patient. In fact, more than $20 billion a year is spent on unnecessary procedures and examinations. This can have the adverse effect of increasing the patient’s anxiety since it can provoke their concern while still not producing results.

People who are extreme worriers are more likely to develop health anxiety disorder. The fear that arises with this disorder can be paralyzing. To make things worse, about two-thirds of hypochondriacs suffer from a co-existing psychiatric disorder, such as major depression or panic disorder.

Treatments for health anxiety disorder can include:

  • Sessions with a mental health professional to assist with the stress associated with the disorder.
  • Regular doctor visits with a trusted physician. If the visits occur regularly rather than on an as-needed basis the patient has a better chance of distinguishing between the seriousness of the symptoms they experience.
  • Working to recognize that the physical signs each person experiences are not a symptom of something sinister and are, instead, their mind making their normal bodily sensations seem more threatening than they actually are.

If you or someone you know is suffering from health anxiety disorder it is important to seek help immediately. Health anxiety is a debilitating condition that can severely affect the lives of the people who suffer from it. Dr. Andrew Rosen and The Center for Treatment of Anxiety Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida specialize in helping those who are fearful that they may have a serious medical condition. Take the first step toward getting help by calling 561-496-1094 or by emailing Dr. Rosen and The Center today.

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