Cyberchondria and health anxiety

Health anxiety can indirectly lead to injury because it can increase one’s exposure to all of the risks associated with contact with healthcare providers.  These risks include: misdiagnosis leading to inappropriate treatment or further anxiety, correct diagnosis but treatment that is poorly executed, invasive tests that can directly cause injury, side effects of medication or surgery and exposure to hospital induced infections.

Health anxiety, or what some would call hypochondria, is a complex issue because a certain amount of anxiety about one’s health is clearly a good thing since it can motivate you to avoid undertaking harmful activities or to seek appropriate help. So there is clearly a balance to be struck.

It is not just the interventions of medics and physiotherapists that can be harmful but risky diets, aids and appliances and steps that one takes oneself to avoid a perceived risk. Nowadays in addition to the risk of being misdiagnosed by a doctor it is very easy to misdiagnose oneself through surfing the Internet. The Internet is clearly a mixed blessing because on the one hand it can yield very quickly some very useful information but on the other one can be misdiagnosed very easily because any given symptom can be caused by a range of diagnoses and because the people giving advice on forums are not really equipped to diagnose a specific individual.

The individual with health anxiety may also find that their complaints are taken less seriously by medics which means that when they have significant issues they are less likely to be referred promptly for tests and investigations.

I don’t think I experience health anxiety in the sense that I don’t worry about all of those frightening illnesses like cancer and heart disease that fortunately (so far) I have not experienced, however when something is wrong then I do worry about it and can’t just dismiss it.

If this counts as health anxiety, then I  wonder if I experience it because when I was very young I experienced quite severe physical ill-health.  The people that I have met who experience severe health anxiety have been people who have been traumatised when they were young through their experience of conditions such as cancer, traumatic accidents and breathing difficulties.

However, what some health care professionals fail to appreciate is that it is possible to experience health anxiety and also experience real physical conditions and injuries. In fact people with mental health issues including health anxiety are more likely than others to also have physical health problems for a variety of different reasons.