Consulting “Dr. Google”
Life With Health Anxiety & Effective Treatment
John lived with the constant fear that he would soon be dead. He had a nagging pain in the pit of his stomach that wouldn’t go away and he immediately suspected stomach cancer. He typed, “what are the symptoms of stomach cancer” into his internet browser and learned that feeling full after eating small amounts of food, feeling bloated after eating, heartburn, indigestion were all symptoms of stomach cancer. He is pretty sure that he has all of these symptoms. This confirmed it. He must be dying.
He went to see his GP, who told him that it wasn’t cancer, but John didn’t believe her and he couldn’t stop thinking about it. He went back to see his doctor several more times and eventually convinced her to schedule him for a scan at the hospital. The scan confirmed that he didn’t have stomach cancer, but John wasn’t persuaded. He started to think, “What if they missed it? What if the tumor was too small too see? What if the technician made a mistake?” John wasn’t actually suffering from stomach cancer, but Health Anxiety.
Health anxiety, once called Hypochondria, is a fairly common anxiety disorder. Health anxiety develops when a person catastrophically misinterprets health related information. For example, dizziness MUST be caused by brain cancer, forgetting where you put your keys MUST be a symptom of Alzheimer’s. It is believed that about 4-6% of the population suffers from health anxiety and that number is thought to be increasing. Information seeking on the internet is thought to be the reason for the increase. Recent research found that one in 20 searches using Google was for health related information and a 2010 study carried out of 12,262 people in 12 countries found that nearly half used Google for self-diagnosis of a health related issue. Recent studies have found that up to 10% of all visits to primary care providers are due to health anxiety.
A person with health anxiety will often:
- Visit the doctor frequently to seek reassurance about symptoms
- Seek many different opinions from various health care providers
- Seek expensive diagnostic tests or undergo diagnostic procedures
- Make health a primary topic of conversation
- Seek reassurance from friends and family members about their health
- Spend many hours on the internet researching physical or mental symptoms
- Spend many hours on the internet researching diagnosis and treatment options
Health anxiety has many features of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Constant thoughts about being sick in health anxiety are similar to the obsessive thoughts in OCD. Similarly, attempts to seek reassurance (e.g. doctor’s visits, internet searches) in health anxiety are similar to compulsive rituals in OCD. The fundamental difference between OCD and health anxiety is that those with OCD often fear getting a disease, while those with health anxiety fear already having a disease.
Thus, treatment for health anxiety is similar to treatment for OCD. Recent research studies at the Mayo Clinic and Harvard University have confirmed that the most effective treatment for health anxiety (Hypochondria) is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). When seeking CBT treatment it is important to find a trained therapist who has been specifically trained to treat your symptoms using an evidence-based approach.
GroundWork Counseling offers individual therapy sessions for the treatment of adults, adolescents, and children with Health Anxiety (Hypochondria), utilizing evidence-based methods which aim to change unhelpful thought patterns and behaviors and reduce physical symptoms and doctor’s visits.
Speak With An Orlando Anxiety Therapist