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Birmingham and Solihull Mental health NHS Foundation Trust
Better Together
Help with depression and anxiety - Birmingham Healthy Minds

Health anxiety

What is health anxiety?

You may be experiencing health anxiety if you worry about your health a lot of the time when there is no medical reason to do this, and how you lead your life is affected by this. You may often seek comfort or reassurance from other people that everything is alright. This may be from family, friends, or your doctor. You may find you are checking your body for symptoms, and that the more you check, the more you seem to notice strange feelings or lumps in your body. You may avoid certain activities as if you were ill, and you may avoid anything to do with illness e.g. information or medical programmes on the television. On the other hand some people with health anxieties find themselves drawn to any information about illnesses and can begin to notice the signs of such illness in themselves.

What causes health anxiety?

There can be many reasons why someone starts worrying too much about their health. If you are suffering from health anxiety: you may have had a period of ill health which has left you worry about your health; or you may have gone through a particularly stressful period of your life which has resulted in a lot of worrying symptoms; there may have been illness or death in your family, or another family member may have worried a lot about their or your health when you were young.

Signs and symptoms of health anxiety

If you are regularly suffering from some or all of these symptoms, then it is possible that you are suffering from health anxiety.

  • Constant worrying about health
  • Picturing upsetting things in the future, such as being diagnosed with a serious illness and the effect of this on your loved ones
  • Imagining the worst and dwelling on it
  • Thoughts about illnesses and symptoms
  • Concentrating on parts of your body and symptoms
  • Thinking that the doctor may be able to help
  • Thinking that if you don’t worry, you are tempting fate
  • Worrying that the doctor may have missed something
  • Believing that unless you keep an eye on things you may miss signs of a serious illness
  • Believing that you may have something terribly wrong but you don’t want to think about it
  • Thinking that your family/friend may know if this symptom seems serious
  • Wishing you could visit the doctor but fearing you are now thought of as a time waster or someone not be taken seriously
  • Anxious, nervous, worried, frightened, panicky
  • A feeling of dread
  • Tense, stressed, uptight, on edge, unsettled
  • Unreal, strange, woozy, detached
  • Feeling tired or unwell
  • Angry that people think your symptoms are ‘all in your head’
  • Odd sensations in various parts of body
  • Body aching or tense muscles
  • Breathing changes
  • Chest feels tight or painful
  • Dizzy, light headed, headaches
  • Feeling jumpy or restless
  • Having to go to the toilet frequently
  • Heart pounds, races, skips a beat
  • Stomach churning, “butterflies”
  • Sweating
  • Tingling or numbness in toes, fingers or arms
  • Go to the doctor’s surgery frequently
  • Ask family and friends for reassurance about your symptoms
  • Frequently check your body for symptoms such as lumps or bumps, tingling and pain
  • Focus on one area of the body for changing sensations
  • Avoid any information on serious illnesses e.g. turn the TV off if a hospital programme is on
  • Seek out any information on serious illnesses, and check for those symptoms (books, Internet, TV)
  • Act as if you were ill, for example, avoiding exertion or exercise, keeping near to home, resting