Health Anxiety

Health Anxiety, also known as Illness Anxiety or Hypochondriasis, is similar to OCD. So, I prefer to call it Health OCD. This is because, like other OCD subtypes, it includes both obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions manifest as intrusive thoughts, images, and impulses, while compulsions are the behaviors that individuals engage in to alleviate the distress or anxiety brought on by their obsessions.

Many people may worry or feel concerned about their health and even experience anxiety about seeing a doctor, getting tests, and waiting for results. However, Individuals with health anxiety experience EXCESSIVE worry about their health and may believe their physical symptoms are signs of a serious illness or life-threatening disease. People with health anxiety tend to pay close attention to any bodily sensations they experience, whether minor or temporary. Despite reassurances from medical professionals, they frequently interpret these sensations as indications of a serious medical issue such as cancer, heart disease, neurological disorders, or other life-threatening illnesses. Their worries are usually very time-consuming and can significantly impact their functioning. To alleviate their fears and attain complete certainty about their health, they may engage in compulsions to reduce their anxiety and self-diagnosis. However, these compulsions perpetuate the cycle of anxiety.


  1. Checking ones body for signs or symptoms of illness.
  2. Joining online support groups.
  3. Avoiding triggers related to one’s feared condition (ex., a commercial about a feared illness or disease).
  4. Seeking reassurance from family and friends.
  5. Hypervigilance to bodily noise or sensations.
  6. Excessive Google searching or researching one’s symptoms or a specific disease or illness.
  7. Analyzing one’s body for minor changes.
  8. Seeking multiple medical evaluations and tests by medical professionals, despite reassurance that symptoms are benign.
  9. Body scanning.
  10. Excessive talking about one’s symptoms with family and friends.


The “gold standard” treatment for Health OCD is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). The cognitive component of treatment involves identifying and challenging irrational beliefs and catastrophic thinking related to health concerns and learning to reinterpret bodily sensations and health information more objectively and in a less distressing manner. Treatment also involves, Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), which gradually exposes individuals to situations or information that trigger health-related anxiety and prevents the usual compulsive behaviors, such as excessive researching or seeking reassurance from healthcare providers. The goal of treatment is for individuals to become more aware of their anxious thoughts and physical sensations without becoming overly attached to them and learn to accept that complete certainty regarding their health fears is not possible. Ultimately, the hope is that the patient achieves a stronger sense of acceptance and lessens the urge to react impulsively to health concerns. Lastly, by incorporating Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), the effectiveness of treatment can be significantly increased. This therapy empowers individuals to cultivate a more accepting and compassionate connection with their anxious thoughts and bodily sensations while simultaneously taking purposeful strides toward achieving their life goals.
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