Health anxiety

Health Anxiety: Research Suggests It May Lead To Heart Disease

It’s normal to be concerned about your health, but sometimes too much concern can be a health problem in itself. A new study has revealed that health anxiety could lead to increased heart-disease risk. The advice to those who are feeling like they are suffering from health anxiety is to speak to their doctor and seek help for their concerns.

What is ‘health anxiety’?

‘Health anxiety’ (otherwise known as hypochondria) refers to people who have an ‘excessive’ concern about their health, who worry about contracting or having a serious illness and disease, or who regularly seek medical advice without displaying any symptoms. It can cause distress for sufferers, whose daily lives may be affected by these concerns. With the large volume of health information available online, it makes it even easier to get consumed in health concerns. However, this in itself can lead to health problems such as panic attacks and depression.

About the study

This study was part of the Norwegian Hordaland Health Study (HUSK) and was published in the British Medical Journal. 7,000 participants were followed for a decade or longer and all were born between 1953 and 1967. Each participant was required to complete regular questionnaires about their health and lifestyle and were required to have blood, weight, height and blood pressure checks. Meanwhile, anxiety was measured using a scale known as the ‘Whiteley Index’, revealing that the 710 participants who were said to have health anxiety had an increased risk of developing heart disease.

Treating health anxiety

For many sufferers, seeking help for health anxiety is difficult, as many do not know that they have it. NHS Choices recommends asking yourself the following questions:

  • Have you been preoccupied with having a serious illness because of body symptoms, which has lasted at least six months?
  • Have you felt distressed due to this preoccupation?
  • Have you found that this preoccupation impacts negatively on all areas of life, including family life, social life and work?
  • Have you needed to carry out constant self-examination and self-diagnosis?
  • Have you experienced disbelief over a diagnosis from a doctor, or felt you are unconvinced by your doctor’s reassurances that you are fine?
  • Do you constantly need reassurance from doctors, family and friends that you are fine, even if you don’t really believe what you are being told?

If you can answer ‘yes’ to the majority of these questions, then you should make an appointment with your GP, who will be able to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment can involve identifying underlying causes of your anxiety, as well as offering other treatments including therapy and possibly medication. Seeking help is important not only for your own health, but that of others too. GP waiting rooms are often already at capacity and A&E is facing constant pressure, particularly at this time of year. It’s therefore important to reserve visits for actual medical emergencies. Minor concerns such as coughs and colds or hay fever can be treated at home or with the help of a pharmacist for the most effective self-care.

Further information about health anxiety

Health anxiety is a distressing condition, but there are many resources available to help sufferers to manage it. If you suspect that someone you know is suffering from the condition, it’s important that you treat them with sensitivity and care, as well as making sure that you take them seriously. By offering support and encouraging them to seek help from their GP, you can help them to get the care they need.

The NHS Choices website has a detailed webpage dedicated to hypochondria, whilst the NHS Health Anxiety Self-Help Guide is also a good resource to learn more about overcoming the condition yourself.