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by Ken Goodman, LCSW

The illness you fear might not be the illness you have. I recently conducted an online support group for people with all sorts of health fears, from cancer and heart disease to ALS and MS. Each shared their worries about moles on the skin, irregular heart palpitations, and numbness and tingling. Although their specific fears varied, they all had one thing in common; none of them had ever been diagnosed with a series illness and they all related to the following scenario:

Dina felt great after getting a clean bill of health from her physician but as she tried to fall asleep, she dwelled on one statement he made, Tumors can grow at any time. Come back in six months if you’re concerned.  Questions raced through her mind as she tossed and turned, Why did he tell me that? If there was nothing wrong, why would he say come back in six months?  What if he missed something? Why do I keep getting headaches and dizziness? Dina felt so anxious she got out of bed and searched the web for answers.  As she reread the same articles about symptoms of brain cancer, she began to feel lightheaded.  Why do I keep feeling this way? Do I really have brain cancer? Is this really happening? 

The good news was, Dina did not have brain cancer or a brain tumor. Dina had health anxiety. There are two types of health anxieties: Somatic Symptom Disorder and Illness Anxiety Disorder, formally known as hypochondriasis.  Many people with health anxiety are often unable to function or enjoy life due to their fears and preoccupations. They obsess over bodily functions (breathing, heartbeat), physical oddities (skin blemishes), and physical discomfort (headaches, stomach aches, lightheadedness).They might worry about a specific organ (brain, heart) or a disease they heard about on the news or at work (MS, diabetes). They are preoccupied with the belief that they have, or are in danger of contracting, a serious illness. Many will purse doctors and tests repeatedly for reassurance, but are reluctant to seek mental health treatment since they believe their condition is medically based.   

Why does health anxiety persist despite reassurance from doctors?

Although some refuse to be examined by their physician due to their fear of discovering the worst, seeking reassurance from doctors, insisting on repeated medical tests, and visits to urgent care, are more common in health anxiety. Being reassured by the doctor that there is no serious medical illness brings relief -- temporarily. The vicious cycle quickly resumes as new thoughts and physical sensation surface, followed by googling and self-diagnosis, misinterpretations of news in the media, anxiety, and more visits to doctors to resolve the uncertainty. The cycle ignites with each new alarming thought or symptom. 

The False Alarm

Car alarms are set off when a criminal breaks in but imagine how problematic it would be if the siren blared each time a pedestrian walked by.  The car alarm would be misinterpreting innocent people as dangerous criminals.

With health anxiety there is the misinterpretation of discomfort and normal bodily sensations as dangerous. The body is very noisy. Healthy human bodies produce all sorts of physical symptoms that might be uncomfortable, unexpected, and unwanted, but not dangerous.

Normal sensations in the body that can produce fear and worry include changes in visual acuity, heart rate, blood pressure, saliva levels, depth of breathing, balance, and muscle tone, just to name a few.These are normal and harmless bodily changes, but when a person believes they are symptoms of a terrible disease, it causes anxiety.The sensations are real, but the beliefs are false.

Why do people misinterpret sensations in their body and overestimate danger? 

Sometimes misinterpretation is due to assumptions about an illness. For example, “My cousin died of cancer. It’s only a matter of time until I get it.”  Or, viruses sped easily. People in Africa are dying of Ebola. It could easily spread to the U.S.  People with health anxiety might hold rigid definitions of good health, perhaps believing that any discomfort whatsoever means bad health.

Anxiety is a protective mechanism and scanning the body for an illness seems like the right thing to do to protect ourselves. However, when we are preoccupied with something, we tend to notice it. Last month when I was looking to purchase a new car, I suddenly began to notice every car on the road; the make, model, and the color. Previously, I didn’t pay attention. Looking for symptoms makes you notice subtle sensations you might otherwise ignore. When you become preoccupied with bodily sensations, those sensations become amplified and last longer.

This is when it gets tricky. 

Each scan of the body produces uncertainty and doubt, giving the imagination opportunity to create stories. As you imagine the worst, your body’s alarm system sounds off in the form of symptoms of anxiety (racing heart, tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, jitters, tingling, lightheadedness, nausea, stomach discomfort, sweating, headaches, etc.) giving your imagination additional fuel to create great works of fiction.The symptoms are real. The thoughts are false.

The Most Effective Treatment is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Since it is possible to suffer with anxiety and a serious medical condition, medical problems must be ruled out with a thorough physical exam. Once this is accomplished, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most effective treatment for any form of anxiety including health related anxiety.

CBT is a therapy model that focuses on our cognition, the way we think, and our behaviors, the way we act. The main concept behind CBT is that our thoughts about a situation (the fear of ALS) effect how we feel (afraid and anxious) and how we behave (holding out our hands to see if they are trembling). We tend to assign meaning to specific situations (tingling means we have MS).  It’s not the actual situation causing our anxiety, but the meaning – accurate or not. And, when you have anxiety, you give your thoughts a lot of meaning, and thus, a lot of power. 

CBT aims to help you overcome fears by correcting irrational thoughts and changing problematic behaviors.  By acquiring a certain mindset, you can learn to approach anxious situations differently and learn to tolerate discomfort and uncertainty. Illness anxiety can be overcome with the help of a skilled anxiety specialist and CBT.  You can find a therapist in your state on the ADAA website.  And for additional information on Illness Anxiety watch my free ADAA webinar.

This blog post has been updated by the author - June 22, 2020

Additional ADAA Resources by Ken Goodman:

How to Get Over It: Fear of Vomiting - ADAA blog post
Overcoming the Fear of Vomiting - ADAA on-demand webinar
Overcoming the Fear of Driving
- ADAA on-demand webinar
Overcoming the Fear of Driving - ADAA blog post

Additional Resources:
Health Anxiety Is Way More Than Being A Hypochondriac — And It’s Way More Common Than You Think
This Is Why Being Anxious Makes Some People Puke - Article,  Tonic.vice.com, December 6, 2018 


About the Author

Ken Goodman, LCSW, treats anxiety and OCD in Los Angeles. He is the author of The Anxiety Solution Series: Your Guide to Overcoming Panic, Worry, Compulsions and Fear, A Step-by-Step Self-help Audio Program, Break Free from Anxiety, a coloring, self-help book for anxiety sufferers, and the Emetophobia Manual, for those who suffer with the fear of vomit.  Ken Goodman is an ADAA board member and Clinical Fellow. Visit Ken's website.

 

Hospitalized in 2008, 3 days in the cardiac unit, every test known to man, they concluded the elevated heart rate and bp was due to a major panic attack, it came from out of nowhere and ive been scared for my life ever since, they sent me home with no medication - a regular Drs visit showed a slight elevation in bp one day in 2010 (120/86, because I had a horrible job and coworkers were even worse), the Dr gave me bp meds that gave me piercing headaches for 8 years, until a new Dr took me off the meds and my bp has been okay, but I started having pain in my lower back, doctors saying nothing wrong after several tests, then I noticed sudsy deposits in my urine, my doctor said it's nothing, then they call me to say I have kidney stones, then they say I don't have them because nothing shows on the x ray/sonogram/ultrasound tests, the pain is still there, standing and walking hurts so bad, the bp meds I never needed in the first place have apparently affected my kidneys and the doctors I have seen tell me to just drink more water, not helping at all, they say there's no prescription to get rid of kidney stones, I guess they want me to die - my regular Dr gave me low dose anti-anxiety meds because I wasn't sleeping, then took me off after a few months saying they're addictive, so now I'm back to not sleeping, eating too much for comfort, unable to walk off the calories because of the pain in my back, still have the sudsy deposits in my urine with all the water I'm drinking, can't stop smoking because of the anxiety, looking at Google makes everything worse, now I'm afraid of having a heart attack on top of kidney failure, afraid of going to any other Dr or specialist because I know it will be bad news, all this from being misdiagnosed and given harmful drugs for no reason, I think it was done on purpose - I was told the hospitalization in 2008 when they said it was a major panic episode was actually a thyroid storm, they said in 2013 my thyroid was a bit wonky, on the low side, then they said my thyroid tests were all normal, my kidney function is normal, as of a month ago they did all the same tests again and they say everything is normal, then why all the pain in the kidney area and the sudsy deposits in my urine? Why leave me in high anxiety and panic mode and sleepless with no medication? I have read countless articles about doctors misdiagnosing and ignoring symptoms in "certain patients", and i am one of those "certain patients", i conclude they want us all to die, i refuse, I'm scared, but I won't give up trying to restore my health that doctors have ruined, if the pain would go away I could remove the extra pounds, I'm eating better, no restaurant food, no processed food, no carbonated drinks, no caffeine, but the stress and lack of sleep has pushed too much cortisol and expanded my midsection, which puts me at risk for diabetes and heart problems, so now I'm desperate to lose the weight and to quit smoking, I had no health issues at all until that hospitalization in 2008, whether it was a panic attack or a thyroid storm or not, doctors and pharmaceuticals have only made matters worse, before then I enjoyed every single day of my life, since then I am living a never-ending nightmare, I pray to find a naturopath and a nutritionist to restore my health before I die from all this or old age, I have nothing good to say about allopathic medicine, they have ruined my life, I refuse to give up but I can't shake the fear of the next panic attack or something worse, if only I could sleep like I used to, my body would have a chance to heal, I am so scared, I wish someone would help me

I have never felt the need to go to the doctor throughout my entire life and have always been healthy. At most I have only taken a couple if days off from work due to a minor cold. However, recently something scared the living shit out of me to the point that everyday I wake up frustrated and scared of absolutely every disease possible. I have been in and out of the doctor's office no less than two times a week over the last few months and each time I have been cleared of whatever disease I am thinking about in the moment. However, regardless of these clearances I don't seem to be getting any better. In fact, each day brings on newer and shittier challenges. Very frustrated about this recent onset of health anxiety and not really seeing a way out.

Any little thing that happens worries me. My face feel tingly? I think I'm having a stroke. My chest hurts? I feel like I'm having a heart attack. My neck hurts? I feel like my blood is clotting. I can't get over this. I've lost interest in caring for myself. I'm hungry, I'm dehydrated, I'm tired. I don't know what to do.

Hi all. Thank you for sharing it really helps. I started having anxiety issues about my health two months ago. A bad gastritis together with an infection of H Pylori made it worse. Had few panic attacks as well. Feels like I am going to die with a heart attack etc. my energy is totally drained and I can’t seem to be able to bear any sort of stress. A minimal walking is tiring.

So yesterday I went to see a psychiatrist and she diagnosed health anxiety. For all those who feels that a visit to a doctor is reassuring for a bit, I certainly know what you mean. I have cousins and uncles and friends who are doctors yet it’s didn’t work. I shall be trying CBT soon. Hope it helps. Writing that gave me hope and reading through you experience I feel I have a people who could understand me.

We shall overcome

I to suffer with heart anxiety...even though I have been given the all clear from my doctor on numerous visits to him that my heart is ok...why do I keep on worrying I have no symptoms...but then I think what if I did get symptoms...i just want the doctor to stop it from happening to me...I just feel I have no control of my heart and feel it could give out on me anytime...does anybody feel like that???

My wife has severe health anxiety about her heart. Constant fear of dying or something going wrong with her body. She was an ultrasound tech then became too stressed and had to quit. Developed her anxiety during that time. Last fall she was having an intense panic attack and I started having heart symptoms myself, I couldn’t believe it! I think it was due to built up stress. After many tests (CT, heart monitors, etc) the docs finally realized i am a healthy 26 year old and everything was due to stress and anxiety. Took me about 3 months to exercise. I’m on meds and see a therapist often. It has been an exhausting year but I’m starting to feel a little better. Positive attitude, therapy, socializing and meditation/mindfulness have helped. I also found a podcast called the anxiety coaches podcast which has been AMAZING! The host (Gina) is wonderful and has advice for almost every situation. I still deal with anxiety and my wife is currently struggling but I’m not giving up hope! Stay positive everyone because things can and will get better!!!

I have always had a fear of cancer. I also have a hard time dealing with things. About 10 years ago I started drinking. Every evening I would drink about 4 drinks. Started not feeling well in late 2017. Had a cold that I couldn’t shake well into January 2018. Went for checkup and blood work showed body was fighting infection. During this time I noticed some white patches in my throat behind my tonsils. Went to several Drs who said it wasn’t cancer.I was upfront with my alcohol use but that didn’t faze them at all. I pushed and they did biopsies. This is where my distrust comes in. They both sent them to the pathologist as 1 a benign neoplasim and the other was a tonsillectomy and he said it was for tonsil stones after writing in his surgery notes that there was an abnormality. They both came back as chronic irritation or follicular hyperplasia. I’ve tried to put it behind me as of March of this year. However in June I felt a sore spot on my tongue towards the back. I looked and there was a crater like surface lesion. Looked like a canker sore but not painful like they usually are. After two weeks I visited my dentist who thought maybe it was a bad tastebud and lasered it. The sore for the most part is gone but theres still a tenderness that is at the base of my tongue and throat. I am worried that there was something going on from the tonsillectomy that surfaced in the tongue from it’s removal. I don’t know what else to do as there is no visible lesion only persistant tenderness, pain and redness.

The way it currently looks for me- the extreme relentless stressors for years now in my own life plus possibly hormonal changes invariably manifest as various degrees of actual physical ailments.. some have been significant enough to interfere with functioning.. then my mind further manifests the stress as a thought, ‘.. I have discovered this terrible thing.. ‘, and the horror of it in the pit of my stomach which goes with this is just nightmarish.. and I’m convinced I’m dying of whatever it is. But I think it’s just all the stress projected or experienced as illness. The closest I’ve yet achieved to being free from it, is daily measures of anything which calms the nervous system enough and sometimes this involves an hour or two of stuff like breath work yoga and meditation. Still it’s a battle which is exhausting. Ps. I’m a therapist

I’m 24 and feeling extremely anxious about heart failure or having a brain aneurysm. I’ve already had a 300 dollar head CT scan and it checked out fine! Yet every time I get a headache/migraine, my mind goes to the worst. Even right this moment I have a bad headache (probably from stress) and I can’t stop googling or thinking the worst. I’ve also been having chest pains within the last week that also add to my anxiety. They put me on Zoloft and clonzepram for panic attacks but this anxiety feels indefinite. I don’t know what to do. I know my dad is sick of getting phone calls from me @ 3am.

I am glad I am not alone. I recently moved and ever since than my hypochondria has gotten out of control. I am afraid that if I can't start trusting my brain and self, it will end up badly. Everything that is wrong, is cancer. I have convinced myself 100% that this is the case.

Thank u for everyone who commented, reading all this has helped me a lot. I had a major illness as a kid, then unexpected cysts on my ovaries in early 20s, and have watched my father suffer from mental illness all my life..... I am healthiest I’ve ever been, taking better care of myself than ever, look and feel great and nothing comes up at doctors appts but I just feel like I’m going to get sick and die and have all my dreams ripped from me and leave my daughter. It’s horrifically sad and upsetting. When my acupuncturist or doctor dispel one theory of what’s wrong w me, I make up a new one in a diff part of my body, it’s insane and I tell myself it’s insane when I am feeling all this it can’t stop. I am meditating a lot, releasing a lot of fear and visualizing myself healthy and whole, this is helping me a lot. Have done therapy too but meditation works best for me, I am seeing better peace finally. Today was the first time I read about illness Anxiety Disorder and this also helped. We are so programmed by society to believe we are just all gonna get chronic illnesses and die, I mean every other damn commercial is about cancer or some drug, it’s sick! No wonder y’all. Anyway, stay positive out there and I’m sending everyone my love ❤️

I have previously wrote a comment about my health anxiety coming back really bad after having a baby now 8 weeks old I am getting all these new symptoms including etopic a beat chest tightness back pain then today I’m getting a feeling like my throat is numbing and closing in wondering if anyone else has suffered with these symptoms ?

I also get these symptoms and the symptoms keep increasing the more anxious I get. And it’s always different every time even though the anxiety is the same throughout. It started with my shoulder and back pain which is cause by bad posture but then after I google symptoms of heart disease I started getting those too one by one. The more I knew the more symptoms I started feeling. And I’m so well aware of the fact that nothings wrong and everything I believe is stupid and just irrational. Everybody feels these normal bodily pains all through their healthy lives. It’s just that I’ve become extremely sensitive to each and every sensation

This anxiety issue is terrible, I found relief and calmness by accepting death. I have a new made up sickness nearly every week, most of the time I know I do not have a certain sickness but my brain doubts any thought I have and decides I have it anyway. Sometimes trying to sleep is impossible because I think that relaxing feeling is me dying.

I did have a health scare a couple years ago. Due to that, it has really pinned me down to the point that everything I feel in my body I go right to Dr Google to "in my mind" try to stay proactive. This is proving to be very exhausting and at times I feel almost crippled mentally due to the mental Olympics that I put myself through. I know its not helpful or healthy to try to play Dr., but I struggle with just ignoring things. Currently am seeing a therapist, but still keep going back to those unproductive thoughts. Any other effective suggestions? Thanks for any helpful replies.

I have a very similar issue, and it's great to read Ken's articule, which scenarios are very on pointe. I was diagnosed with an eye infection recently, but the doctor said i will be fine so long as i listen with his instructions with regards to the medicine.

I know that overall, i feel much better, but i have harping thoughts - am i truly recovering or is it the steroids doing the work? what if i the infection comes back once i'm off from the medication. It's making my heart race, im checking my eyesight every few minutes, and panicking to the extent that i am paralysed with fear. I have troubles sleeping at night, and these days, i am required to stay home and just rest. But with every waking moment, i am focusing on my issue, and noticing every little itch on my eyelash, as a sign of the infection returning.

It's really amazing, as i read the comments of others, i find that the fears are unwarranted, and reading mine, i find an uncanny parallel...I hope that all of us are able to snap out of this vicious cycle, and it's actually comforting to know of others encountering the same issues.

Do you have any advice for how to deal with teenage daughter's severe health anxiety? She has just started CBT but is looking for reassurances hourly and it is so distressing for everyone.

I've had an anxiety disorder since early childhood. I'm in my mid fifties now. My entire life has revolved around my anxieties. My health anxieties came later in life after watching both parents die from cancer. I had extreme episodes of fear when ever a test or checkup was due for anyone in my family or myself. I have been working with both a psychiatrist and psychologists for years. It's a slow process, yet it all depends on your determination to "fight back". One of my favorite methods is to challenge my fear to get worse. Yes, GET WORSE!!! Lets face it, we fear our fear. Right? What happens when you challenge your "fear" to get worse? Where can it go? I know up! Maybe a bit, but if you take that leap of faith and truly challenge it to go up, it tends to go down. It feels completely wrong to do this, but it works. When we panic, we tend to "run". Like a dog, it will run after you! Don't run! Dare the anxiety to get worse! It cannot kill you. It never has. Right? Dare it to go out of control, but like the bully when challenged, it is not so tough after all. It is in our minds, but in actual reality it wont get out of control. I have so much I can share on this site with my many, many years of dealing with this. Doing nothing feeds into it. Start challenging your fear. Dare it to rise and rise. It's amazing how this feedback works. When it has no where else to go or to chase, it fades.
What a wonderful community of people here. We all can get through this. We're not alone....

Hello. Basically, my health anxiety started when I was about 6 - at which time I cried everyday by virtue of my worries. I thought I had a brain tumour, heart problems and problems with my eyes at age SIX. Aged six I thought I was dying. since then, it calms down for a period of months, then I have a really bad "episode" every few months for a couple of weeks in which something sets me off and I get ridiculously anxious. The worries range from Bowel cancer to heart problems to my most common - brain tumours. The worst bit is, during these episodes I tend to live as if I am dying, and have even planned ahead to what happens subsequent to my death. It is really horrible, and I am going through one of these aforesaid "episodes" now. Just wanted to see if anyone experiences similiar symptoms to mine? I also recently got diagnosed with ADHD and depression so that is another thing to consider.

I also feel like I’m getting a heart attack at any moment. Even though I’m healthy and a non smoker and my bp is mostly always normal regardless of me checking it multiple times in the day. I only have back pain because of bad posture and I ultimately just assume it’s my heart and it’s been going on for years. I google symptoms and the next thing you know I’m suddenly getting all these new symptoms I just googled and I don’t even think maybe my body is just making this up. I just think of the worst. And it’s driving me and my family crazy. Before my heart anxiety I always thought maybe I have brain tumor. Every time I got a neck pain. And the funny part is that I know I just have neck and back pain Bc of horrible posture. I even exercise and eat healthy. I don’t have any serious pains I just start imagining sensations in my body and start getting tense until I just lose it and get a panic attack. And this happens almost every day.

I am so scared. I’m 18, I’ve always been someone who worries. I’ve always had anxiety about my health, but not this bad. well, back in April of this year, I started to feel dizzy. I didn’t go see my doctor because I was scared of horrible results. it got worse. I felt like nothing was real, I felt detached from reality. my mom finally made me a doctors appointment. I went. my B12 was low, which was making me have all this anxiety I was feeling. I was looking up B12, saw something saying that it “could” lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s. I automatically freaked out. my memory was fine, absolutely fine before I read that. after I read that, I’ve convinced myself that I’m losing my memory. I know it’s all in my head. I can remember almost everything about Mötley Crüe, The Runaways, all the bands I like. a bunch of memories of my life run through my head. but I still feel I’m losing it. my anxiety is taking over my life. I don’t know what to do. I’m so damn scared. I know my anxiety is making me feel this way. I just don’t know what to do.

I've read through a bunch of the comments and it's comforting to see the relationship with this type of anxiety that we all have. I've had health anxiety on and off (3 times) over the last 12 years. I'm on my 4th time this year, starting back in the beginning of September. This entire year has been stressful for me, between losing jobs, gaining jobs that weren't fun at all, doing jobs that were fun but very demanding, visiting family that I haven't seen in about 3 years, and then getting the job I've always wanted which just happens to have a crazy schedule, leading to sleep deprivation and a more sedentary life style. One night I was just laying around, it was about 3AM, and suddenly I felt a strange flex in my chest, then the rapid fluttering. I had experienced this before, but not since 2016. It was Atrial Fibrillation. In 2016 it was caused, so I was told, by a LOT of drinking (Holiday Heart). So why was it happening this time? I had been stressed, sleep deprived, I did drink a decent amount of coffee, and I had just eaten 14 pieces of bacon for the hell of it (LOL). Regardless, I knew what it was and I was pretty chill about it. I went to sleep, hoping it would cure itself. When I woke up the next morning it was still going. That was my first strike of anxiety. I got up, did a stretch and it spontaneously stopped and my heart went back into rhythm. Just like that. I didn't take another thought of it... at least until 2 weeks later when I had another AFib episode, this one only lasted 2 minutes. But it was enough to set me over the edge. I started looking up causes of AFib and that rapidly threw me down the rabbit hole. Heart Failure... Sinus Node problems...blah blah blah. I started concentrating on every little thing (as I have done in the past with health anxiety), "Oh man, my heart is only beating at 55bpm ... that's way too slow for me". In any case, it's been hell. I've got my physical tomorrow and I'm hoping to get some relief if my brain will allow me to believe what I'm told. Deep down I know I'm fine, and the anxiety is only exaggerating things. AFib can happen for whatever reason, it's good to get your heart checked out, but I honestly doubt there's anything wrong with me at 32 years old with no history of heart issues. High Blood Pressure being the worst. So yeah, It's nice coming upon this thread and reading everyone's experiences with health anxiety. I wish everyone the best, as I do myself, as I sit here with a foggy head, thinking my brain isn't getting enough oxygen due to poor blood circulation. haha!

Hoping all turns out well for everyone!

Continuing from my previous post, I started reading online on how to treat it and avoided googling my symptoms. Started meditation on this app called calm and reading bookings on happiness. I believe the reason for all with health anxiety is because we are all fixated with our body (which I am sure everyone is aware of). I read somewhere that we should only be focusing on our body symptoms 20% of the time but I believe for all of us who is dealing with health anxiety, we are having like 99% of our attention on our body sensation. Try to focus on your toe now with 100% of your attention and see how it feels. When our attention is fixated on a part of our body and looking out for a symptom, there is a high chance that we will discover something. For me, I get better over time through 10mins meditation every night (this has nothing to do with religion). Also. whenever I have a negative thought, I will tell myself that it is a negative thought and push it out of my mind. It get better over time guys! Trust me! Sorry that I don’t have a step by step guide on how I got better but it sort of like improve over time. I am not a doctor and I think if you are feeling unwell, you should consult a doctor and if the doctor says it’s okay, then it probably should be fine! (I think I have seen more than 5 Doctors, cardiologist - who ran a CT scan which is really expensive but the result only calm my mind for like a week) I am Glad I am about to find back this page and if I recall anything, I will be sure to come back here to add on! Good luck guys!!

I have been going through the comments and I can totally relate. I am 36 and until May this year, I went through life like I am invincible. I used to relish stressful situations, particularly at work, and prided myself on being able to bring out the best in me.

About eight months back, I started experiencing twitches in my right arm. The fingers on my left arm tingled a bit. I decided to investigate. After a bunch of tests, I discovered that my spinal cord was getting compressed in the neck area. That was a shock, to put it mildly, and my life turned around. Nevertheless, I rallied and did all the right things and ended up getting surgery three months ago to relieve the compression. The procedure went off well and the doctor told me to forget about it and just live my life. However, I have been so anxious and stressed out since my diagnosis that I have a whole bunch of new symptoms - palpitations, weakness and the scariest of them all - twitches all over the body. I went to google and immediately concluded that I had MS or ALS. Which made my anxiety worse and the symptoms worse, which in turned convinced me further that I had some horrible Motor neuron disease and that I am going to die in 3 years. After two hellish weeks during which I relentlessly googled (I now hate Larry page with a passion), I discovered that anxiety could be behind all this and decided to relax. But it is SO difficult to practice this. Once a week I relapse and have some sort of a panic attack and ruin all the progress that I make. It is set off by something as simple as a twitch in my arm (the symptoms aren’t gone and may take several months). The problem is, anxiety symptoms don’t suddenly go off after a couple of days of being cool. Which makes it so so challenging to get out of the vicious cycle. What seems to help is - exercise (lots and lots of walking), yoga and meditation. (I haven’t gone for anxiety meds yet as I am scared I will end up being dependent on them). I try a few other tricks too. For example, I decided to rename ALS to Absolutely Lovely State of health so that every time I think I have ALS I can tell my idiotic brain that I am actually in super health. Still not a week goes by without morbid thoughts. This is indeed the battle of my life.

Anyway, I hope to come back to this forum a few months down the line and tell a more positive story. My love and best wishes to everyone else on this forum going through this shit. Power to you all. Together we can beat this. We can win.

Everything what you wrote I am experiencing at the same level for a long time . All sensations, symptoms etc. I have it pretty much every day in the last 3 weeks . I won t add anything , it s just exactly the same situation that you re experiencing. How did you go through that after everything? Did your way was successful? Can you share some more info ? Waiting for your respond . Thank you !!!

OMG this is me, had a pain in my leg two weeks ago then the random twitching started, one google session later and that was it I have ALS!! have suffered with anxiety/panic disorder health anxiety since i was about 7 now 54, Exercise almost daily eat healthy not overweight....not sleeping... obsessing daily...every muscle flicker sends me into a panic...started meditating and trying to do some self CBT. I think what's at the root is the pandemic but this is what my brain does instead. It helps to get this off my chest and hearing of others living the same the same nightmare.

Reading through these comments is the first time I have not felt alone in almost a year. My health anxiety has gotten so bad that the once seldom panic attacks have been replaced by almost constant panic that is always in the background and trying to take over my body nearly every day. I am constantly dizzy and feeling like I'm going to faint, and don't know what sensations are real anymore and when/if to trust my body. I am so attuned to every small thing that is happening inside me and I immediately catastrophize and think I am going to die or pass out. Objectively, I know nothing is medically wrong with me and this is all in my head, and a result of a variety of other stressors going on (e.g., having to move away from my husband for work to a place with absolutely no physical support system; having my parents be recently diagnosed with cancer and other chronic health problems). I find myself grieving the life that I will not have because I am convinced my days are numbered and that I will be dead by some illness that no one has yet identified. I am working on trying to manage the anxiety through therapy and exposure-work. I know something is happening because I keep changing my conceptualization of how I view my anxiety and panic, and then my symptoms morph into something new or different. It is like I am fighting this monster that is constantly evolving and won't relinquish it's hold on me. It is eating me alive, ruining relationships (because I can talk about nothing besides the panic), and no matter how motivated I am to fight this thing, it just won't fade away. I am scared to go on SSRI's, as the primary side effects are somatic symptoms (like nausea and dizziness), and I am afraid this will just worsen my health anxiety. I also feel like such an incompetent professional and imposter because I am a mental health provider who has literal done this work with my own patients and can intellectualize everything that is happening to me. But it doesn't matter. This panic and anxiety and feel like I have completely lost control of my mind and body, and fear these sensations will never go away.

As bad as this might sound it's so comforting to know there are other ppl out there fighting and winning there personal battles with anxsiaty/depression disorders.
I personally have been suffering with anxsiaty going on 20 pluss years due to childhood/teenage/adult trauma.I am currently 28 year's old and only in the last 10 or so years has it been really prevalent as a disorder that no amount off alcohol or drug abuse in my mid teens/early 20's could truly mask I'm now your averages run off the mill dad with 3 children and a server anxsiaty disorder that comes and goes as it pleases or when trigged by anything from a nightout to palpitations witch subsequently leaves me house bound in bed hideing from anything that could stress me out for weeks on end (thank god I'm self employed) the hole time listening to every single heart beat breath niggling little thing that will be the thing that does me over in. All to come out the other side alive and well wating for it to happen all over again. This is no way to live and i urge anyone reading this to go and seek help NO!! one should have to live there day to day lives wile being a victim off there own mimds..i apologise for my poor grammer English was never a strong point

This is a lovely article to read! So well written! I'm a long time sufferer of health anxiety and it's horrendous. I'm so super sensitive that I feel every sensation in my body and generally associate it negatively. I catastrophise all the time and I'm exhausted. I have two children and I constantly worry that I will leave them without a mother! Everybody around me has a significant illness (I directly work with three people with cancer). I'm just not coping at all currently. I try and prepare my children for the worse which, they don't understand at 3 and 4 years old and I feel terrible doing it but I want them to know how much I love them. To scared to go to the doctor's as well. I have gotten a few minutes of reassure from this article for which I am grateful. I just wish I was brave and normal. X

I've been recently diagnosed with somatoform disorder. A kind of health anxiety disorder where my brain finds and obsesses over a disease and then produces physical symptoms. I always have been anxious about my health but never as obsessed as the past month. I used to vape as a healthier option to smoking, however my family managed to convince me to quit the habit as it has some adverse effects (cough in chest). I didn't really bother about it because the cough slowly dissipated as i exercised more. However, last month i got a nasty bout of acidity, which hurt the left side of my chest so hard that i was very surprised and scared. Instead of checking the doctors i decided to google my symptoms and of course Dr google said heart attack. I'm 26 years old without any prior heart diseases but i started to fear that i had a heart attack. I was convinced that i was going to die that day and i stayed awake all night. I went to a physician the next day who checked on me and diagnosed me of acidity. However i wasn't convinced. In the meantime, the severe acidity had caused a sore throat and i was coughing again. My ecg results came out without any problems. I was perfectly healthy. But then, why am i coughing again? Did my cough return? Do i have lung cancer? Do i have throat cancer? Is it COPD? I obsessed on and on and everytime I googled i found a new symptom and a new disease. My acidity came back, i was always sweaty, always felt sick and was always coughing. I went to a pulmonologist who said that I only have a minor cough from acidity. That man specialises in lung but i decided that i was right and he was wrong. Now that i knew that i don't have a lung disease, i was sure i have a throat disease. I googled throat disorders and sure enough i had all of them. Not just one. I went to another physician. He's like family to me and I trust him very much. But he also said that i have no diseases and i was perfectly normal. I remember i broke down in his office and started crying. I couldn't understand what's wrong with me. My blood tests came and everything was perfect. That's when I decided to go take a psychiatrists help. He gave me antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds and believe it or not in 3 weeks as i am writing this comment, i feel a lot better. I still get anxiety bouts but i say to myself it's not real, don't worry, take deep breaths.

I hope in the next weeks to come, my anxiety fully ceases to exist and i become normal again.

Do you worry that you may have or could acquire a serious medical illness? Do you constantly research disease symptoms on line? Do illnesses like cancer, heart attack, and multiple sclerosis scare you? If so, join ADAA board member Ken Goodman, LCSW, as he explains what health anxiety is and how you can overcome it. This live webinar on Saturday, December 7 at 1:00 pm EST will include a former health anxiety sufferer and will offer a Q&A opportunity. There is a $10 fee to register for this live webinar with all proceeds benefiting ADAA's free public educational resources. Register Today: https://members.adaa.org/store/ViewProduct.aspx?id=15211485

What do I do if I have a loved one with this but they get angry if you try and suggest it?

Male, 42, USA...

I am worried there is something wrong with my heart & that all of these medical experts and professionals are missing it. Just about every morning I wake up with a sense of dread and doom, like this will be the day. I have tingling in my arm, leg, back, and sometimes head. All of these tests, labs, images and negative results have not assured me that I am not at risk for a major medical event. I cannot believe that anxiety and stress can do this to a person. How this 'thing' manifests itself physically is truly terrifying and debilitating. There are days when I feel like I'm just going to collaspe and die in the street, then an hour or so later it's like it never even happened. For four years this has plagued me, and an endless list of possible explanations as to why has not alleviated it at all. It feels like each one is the first one. When it comes on, all of the possible (or in my case probable) ways to die come to the forefront. Four years later...I'm still here. This realization alone should give me permanent peace, but strangely it has not.

I know depression is not contagious like chicken pox, but it seems it can somehow affect someone living with a depressed individual. I'm now afraid of every single ache, twinge, twitch and spasm that occurs in my body. These are the hallmarks of health anxiety, or what the old folks used to call hyperchondria. Somewhere along the line of this ordeal I have become aware-and afraid- of my own mortality. It's not that I'm afraid of dying; it's leaving this world at an early age and leaving my kids.

Thanks to countless articles about the 'signs & symptoms of X' or 'these foods are not good for you (although at one time they were), I'm convinced I have every disease known to man!. How did I let myself fall into this trap? Even when i weighed 370 lbs. I was NEVER worried about my health because I never smoked, drank more than moderately, and walked everywhere I went without being tired, sweaty or winded. That episode on Oct. 25 2015 really changed my life. It would also seem that all of the loved ones lost prior to that begun the real change and I never realized it. All of the grief I should have expressed was just pushed aside, and I allowed it to bubble to the surface as something else. There are days when I feel like this something other than anxiety or depression. Yet, at the end of each day, I'm still alive. This is perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this affliction: 'OH MY GOD! I'M DYING!/Well, what to make for dinner?'

One consolation that seems to help me 'cope' are the thousands if not millions of people telling their stories on many online forums like this one. It's like looking in a mirror! These poor people describe the exact same scenarios, sensations & symptoms as myself & everyone else! A vast majority of them say it happened just out of nowhere: sitting at home, watching TV, out with friends...then BAM! Just...like...ME! I once read that this affliction can present itself when a person is in a good place in their life and are ready to deal with whatever trauma or grief they may have endured but never addressed. I will totally agree if that is in fact what we all here are suffering from on a daily basis. Well Wishes to everyone.

Please join ADAA board member Ken Goodman, LCSW, as he explains what health anxiety is and how you can overcome it. This live webinar on Saturday, December 7 at 1:00 pm EST will include a former health anxiety sufferer and will offer a Q&A opportunity. You can register here: https://adaa.org/webinar/consumer/live-webinar-health-anxiety-what-it-and-how-you-can-overcome-it 

Thank you, the ADAA team

Ever since I my grandma passed from a brain aneurysm when I was 10, I’ve had bad health anxiety. I can go years with my anxiety well managed, but, if I don’t keep busy regularly, my anxiety comes right back. It’s been bad; I’ve been freaking out about hypertension and I worry that my BP is dangerously high and I’m afraid to get it checked again. I’ve also been obsessing over my pulse and paying close attention to it. I can feel my heartbeat sometimes too. These symptoms only appear when I’m going through bad episodes of anxiety. I made a doctor appointment because I’m tired of feeling this way. I’m very nervous; my white coat syndrome improved greatly when I was busy and now, with some scares I’ve had, it’s back, with great intensity. I fear that my BP will be so high, that they will have to send me to the ER. That’s a scary thought, but, I want to make sure everything is okay. I’m tired of feeling this way. I cried because of this rut I was stuck in. My life was getting so much better, now, it’s just tough.

Reading all these posts from everyone on the one hand makes me feel somewhat comforted to know that so many others can relate to the torment I've been through (and only people who have been there understand that torment/hell/torture are not overstating the issue)...and on the other hand just makes so sorry that all of you have had to also go through this. I'll be praying for relief and true peace for you all.

One thing I will recommend that has been a game changer for me -- direct exposure to sunshine. Research has already been pointing to the relationship between sun exposure and levels of the extraordinarily helpful vitamin D3 sulfate (not to be confused with the kind of vitamin D3 you can take orally which does not provide the same kind of health benefits). More recently, research is showing that there is a STRONG relationship between proper serotonin levels and anxiety (or depression).

I came across this benefit accidentally. I knew that people were starting to recognize the relationship between sun and vitamin D so I started to "lay out" in the sun for 15 or 20 minutes a day to try and boost those levels. But after a couple weeks I noticed the darndest thing. It was like I had *waves* of calmness come over me out of the blue and completely out of my control. As if someone took my anxiety dial and just turned it down on me. In fact, it wasn't until I felt it removed that I realized just how high my anxiety levels had been.

Now, it isn't that some of the same thoughts wouldn't come up, but when I was in that "good" place mentally it's like I'd just say "eh, I'm sure everything will turn out OK if I wind up needing health treatment," instead of my typical "I'm going to die!!!!" As this (dealing with these thoughts calmly) was so out of place for me it was almost amusing when I felt myself respond in this new way.

So, for anyone reading this who is dealing with any kind of anxiety...depression...panic...whatever, who is not also regularly getting exposure to the sun I URGE you to at least try making it a habit for a couple weeks to see if you get some assistance from it. At the very least, getting your levels of vitamin D3 sulfate up will help your immune system greatly (which helps keep your body humming along better in any case).

One big point here. What you're wanting is to primarily increase your exposure to UVB rays (the shorter rays that have less skin penetration but are responsible for burning with too much exposure)...not UVA rays (the longer rays that penetrate deeper and cause suntan). Generally you need the sun fairly high in the sky (say, from 10:00-2:00 roughly) to obtain these beneficial rays, and if it's overcast you will not get enough UVB rays to stimulate the production we're looking for.  

In winter (or if you live somewhere where this isn't practical) you can get similar benefits from indoor tanning with some BIG caveats. Most tanning beds are made for just that -- tanning. So they want to maximize UVA rays to allow a lot of tanning with less chance of burning. These are what are called "high pressure" bulbs and not what you want (these are often in the "fancy" beds). What you're looking for are "low pressure" bulbs which are often in the most "beginner" or "plainer" tanning beds. The company Sperti also makes a UVB lamp for home use (their phototherapy lamp) if you can afford one (ebay has used ones at a discount). As an aside, UVB exposure has also been huge for helping people with some types of Lupus and psoriasis (life changing in some cases). 

A big point -- you aren't looking to get a dark tan with this process (being tanner actually makes the process take longer going forward). You're just looking for a few short minutes exposure if in a tanning bed or maybe 4 or 5 minutes each "side" if lying out in the sun.

Now, does exposure to UV radiation increase your chance of skin cancer? Yep. Apparently it does. However, if done in a careful manner you're primarily just somewhat increasing your chance of basal cell carcinoma (generally easy to whack off if it happens). Also, increasing these levels of D3 sulfate are thought to provide greatly increased protection against INTERNAL cancers. Looking at research regarding the higher levels of internal cancers in areas where less sunshine is taken in make me think a little higher chance of skin cancer is easily worth the trade off if it gives me extra protection against internal cancers -- especially given the other benefits of vitamin D3 itself and especially the calming I get from the increased serotonin.

Anyway, not sure if that'll help anyone else but it's been huge for me. As I said before I'll be praying for everyone here! 

Health Anxiety has taken over my life. My brother died of Leukemia in June and my sister had a double mastectomy last year. I am overwhelmed with fear. My body tingles and my face feels numb, i get dizzy, my bladder burns etc etc. I am overwhelmed and cant escape it, everything is a death sentence in my head. I need so bad to break the cycle. I see a therapist next week. Lord I hope I can get relief. I cant do this anymore.

I've suffered from health anxiety for most of my adult life, and I can relate to 99.9% of the comments on this page. My latest fixation is a tremor in right hand which comes and goes, and a sensation that weakness is setting into my right arm. Of course I'm thoroughly convinced its the beginning of MS or Parkinson's. I wouldn't wish this anxiety on my worst enemy. I've decided that I have to get professional help, as much as I've resisted the idea for years. But, I just can't live like this any longer. This week I'm going to make the call.

Wish me luck.

I loved this article. Is there an online forum for those that suffer from health anxiety? It’s nice to converse with those that understand exactly my fears and thoughts.

To everyone here struggling just like me I can recommend you the book DARE. It will not end your anxiety but it will help you accept it and live with it.

I constantly research. I worry of reoccurence with family history of mom, sister and 2 aunts. I developed Strep A in bloodstream and Cellulitis of breast flap and it spread like crazy. I am still on antibiotics as it came back as soon as I stopped amoxicillin. 20 Days now 10 more days. I had Diep Flap and just had more fat grafting and this all happened on day 30 after it was done. Spent 6 days in hospital for it and IV Vancomiacin. Blood work was off of course. Now I worry of sepsis. I wake at 3 AM and can' sleep. I do ok while at work so I started to focus on something like sewing at home to occupy my mind. PTSD!

Good early morning,

I would like to know if you have an article of dealing with anxiety attacks during the middle of the night when food is passing through the digestive tract? Whatever I eat, wakes me during the night when it's passing through my stomach. The nerves feel like lightening bolts firing & it connects with my brain & then I get an anxiety attack & bad dreams. What can I do or take so that this will stop & i can sleep through the night?

Today I sit here, during a very scary time in all of our lives, the Covid-19 Pandemic. And my brain can't help but to tell me that, not only am I going to contract this disease, I also have heart problems (I do not, I assure you.) and I might even have lung issues (that too, I do not... easier typed than thought) I might even have brain issues (please note I am not naming the disease as I do not wish to type it into existence.)

I am a relatively healthy 33 year old mother of 1 - 18 month old. Married to a very patient man. A stay at home mom. despite being very busy with my son, my brain has more than enough time to take trips to no mans land and get lost. And when I finally return, it's decided that I am going to die and I need to call 911. And it's very hard to talk me off that ledge. I have tunnel vision and the only thing I can see is my impending doom.

And I do. Almost always because I am alone with my son all day and do not want to just drop dead. ( I won't.... try telling frantic, alone, and scared Mary that...)

As someone who is struggling to deal with these demons, I find comfort in reading articles that articulate exactly what I am feeling. But disheartening to find there isn't a solution. Nothing easy. And that scares the heck out of me.

I don't want to take drugs to help me. I just want to talk to someone who specializes in people with health anxiety. I've tried and tried getting a Dr. But the soonest I can see one (before Covid-19) was 5 months out... FIVE.... I'm scared yesterday.. I don't know what 5 months Mary will feel....

Can anyone else relate? If so, please email me so we can talk.. mzaia@ymail.com

I can totally relate to you ! I just had a massive panic attack and had to take some Ativan to calm me down . A little back story I’ve had health Anxiety as long as I can remember. I was diagnosed with thrombocytopenia(low blood platelets) about 11 Years and they still haven’t Changed still low . They also sent me for a ultrasound a couple years ago and was discovered I had an enlarged. They did the us 6 months later with no change.So today something triggered me to believe this itch on my left side of my throat is a mass because I probably have lymphoma.. I was just about to go to urgent care but decided that’s not a good place to be right now .. I called my doctors office and they are only doing phone consults .. ahh I’m sure this is all in my head And probably triggered by the covid but it’s so debilitating. And extra scary with all this instability

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