Health anxiety, also known as hypochondria, is defined as the condition where a person is more conscious about his/her health and worries frequently. This can go to the extent where it causes severe distress and affects a person’s everyday life.
Health anxiety is often a misunderstanding of the casual body sensation for some dangerous conditions. A healthy human body may often produce some painful, uncomfortable, unwanted, or unexpected symptoms that are not dangerous.
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Common Method for Self-Diagnosis
To make a self-test for diagnosing health anxiety, the most common method used is a questionnaire. People who think they may be affected by health anxiety disorder can take up the questionnaire to make a self-assessment. The questionnaire structure reveals four factors—an obsession that is related to health, requesting reassurance behavior, fear of death, and worry of illness.
Studies have proved that the “Health Anxiety Questionnaire” has a suitable self-test validity. A few Associations produce these questionnaires (like the American Psychiatric Association and OCD Center of Los Angeles) to allow people to evaluate themselves before visiting a doctor. The common questions that the questionnaire comprises are:
- Do you have frequent worries about having a severe disease or illness or a medical condition?
- Do you have sensations in your body and witness several aches (like headaches, stomach aches) or pains or symptoms you consider to be a medical condition or disease?
- Do you constantly check the body for signs and symptoms of illness or medical conditions?
- Do you ever look for the signs of illness in others (like parents, friends, and family) and request them to check themselves?
- Have you ever wished to buy or even bought medical instruments to analyze your body (like BP cuff or stethoscope)?
- Do you spend a lot of time with your family and friends discussing health issues?
- Have you ever requested your family members to ensure that they do not have any medical conditions?
- Do you have the habit of bathing or washing frequently to ensure you are affected by a medical condition or disease?
- Have you ever avoided certain things, places, or persons in fear of being affected by a disease?
- Do you spend more time on the Internet searching for diseases or medical conditions?
- Have you ever avoided watching TV, listening to the radio, or even reading books to avoid certain medical reports or journals?
- Have you ever visited the doctor very often to ensure that you do not have a disease?
- Have you ever doubted your doctor to have made a false statement or failed to identify your disease?
- Have you ever felt depressed or distressed thinking about health conditions?
- Do your health-related thoughts ever disturb your daily activities?
The questionnaire consists of 60–100 questions. The more “yes” answers you have, the more severely you are affected by health anxiety. Apart from these, all other common physical symptoms that produce signs of worry or fear include alternations in the heartbeat, blood pressure, breathing, and even saliva level. These symptoms are common but are considered harmless. The problem arises only when the person misunderstands them for some other severe medical condition.
Pointers to Help Self-Diagnosis
The following are the aspects that help a person to diagnose the severity of health anxiety. The severity is when the negative thoughts tend to affect a person’s daily life.
- If the worries distract you from your enjoyment of other common activities.
- If the worries make you lazy and unable to concentrate on your work.
- Even after several complaints from you, the healthcare professional fails to identify any illness.
- If the worries constantly make you think about death or what will happen if you die.
- If other people around you complain of being irritated or fed-up with hearing your stories.
- If you think that your friends or family neglects your worries related to your health.
- If you plan for certain activities thinking that you have a disease and die in the next few days.
- If the worries keep you occupied for a prolonged period of time.
- If the worries become intensely stressful.
- If you tend to figure out distinct diseases one after the other within a short period of time.
- If you consciously watch your breath and heartbeat.
- The worries make you think that you have more pains and aches than the normal person.
Finding too much information about a certain illness definitely increases the frequency of worries and focuses on disease. People with health anxiety may also have medical conditions that worries them excessively, while others may have an unexplained medical symptom (like headache, chest pain). Too much worry regarding their pain will lead to a complicated situation needing urgent treatment.
Anxiety: A Cancer of the Mind | Aneysha Bhat | TEDxUIUC