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Hypochondriasis (and health-related anxiety)

Individuals with hypochondriasis and health related anxiety experience a distressing and impairing fear of having or acquiring an illness (e.g., cancer, HIV/AIDS, STD). Often, this fear results in many safety-seeking rituals, such as checking for bodily signs of disease, excessive information seeking (often on the Internet), consulting with experts for testing and reassurance seeking, and engaging in excessive health-preserving rituals or avoidance behavior.

Even if individuals with this fear obtain reassurance indicating that they are healthy (e.g., from x-rays), the relief is usually only temporary, as fear typically returns because the sufferer questions the validity of the reassurance, identifies new information that re-triggers the fear, and/or experiences concern for an unrelated illness and cluster of possible symptoms.

Often, individuals with hypochondriasis and health related anxiety misinterpret normal bodily fluctuations (e.g., heart-flutter, eye twitch) and catastrophically assume that such signs signal an illness.

Hypochondriasis and health related anxiety are often considered part of the obsessive-compulsive spectrum because of the nature of the condition’s preoccupations and rituals. It is also similar in nature to the fear, worry, and anxiety disorders. Because of this overlap, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common treatment used to address this condition.