Reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Have you ever felt excessively worried about your health? Perhaps you may have once thought you suffer from a chronic disease that’s gone undiagnosed, or have recurring worries related to your health and well-being.
Welcome to the world of health anxiety — a form of anxiety that involves excessive worry about your physical or mental health.
If you suffer from health anxiety, or if you’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and often develop feelings of concern about potential health issues, you may have considered taking part in a health anxiety forum to connect with people like you.
Health anxiety forums can offer benefits to health anxiety sufferers, but they also have a variety of potential downsides that you should be aware of before signing up and contributing.
Below, we’ve discussed what health anxiety is, as well as how severe health anxiety may affect your life.
We’ve also covered the potential advantages and disadvantages of health anxiety forums, from the value of connecting with other people with health anxiety to the risk of making your concerns about your health and well-being worse.
Finally, we’ve explained what you can do to get professional help if you have anxiety about your physical health and think it could be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
“Health anxiety” is an informal term that’s used to refer to illness anxiety disorder — a psychiatric disorder that’s defined by excessive fear about having or potentially developing a disease, injury or illness.
We all worry about feeling sick from time to time. However, for people affected by illness anxiety disorder, these worries can occur countless times every day, often for no clear reason.
Illness anxiety disorder used to be called hypochondriasis, with sufferers of this disorder known as hypochondriacs. The most recent edition of the DSM-5, a diagnostic tool used in psychiatry, revised the name to remove the stigma associated with the term “hypochondriac.”
If you have illness anxiety disorder, you might frequently feel worried about certain diseases or other medical conditions, even if you have no physical symptoms. You may turn to “Dr. Google” to learn more about these issues, as well as their potential causes and risk factors.
For example, you might obsess over having a serious, potentially life-threatening disease such as breast cancer, a rare and unusual condition or an undiagnosed mental illness.
These symptoms might develop after you read about a certain condition, see it covered on TV, or learn about it from another form of media.
You might also actively seek care from a healthcare provider for these perceived health issues, such as by visiting your primary care provider frequently.
Unlike other anxiety disorders, illness anxiety disorder isn’t very common. Research shows that about 0.1 percent of the general population — or one person out of every thousand — is affected by this anxiety disorder.
Interestingly, illness anxiety disorder is far more common among people in the medical care field than in the general public, with research suggesting that one in every seven medical students is affected by some form of health anxiety.
Health anxiety forums are online communities where you can connect with other people affected by illness anxiety disorder to discuss your symptoms, needs and daily lives.
Taking part in a health anxiety forum can potentially have some benefits. By being able to talk to other health anxiety sufferers, you may be able to learn new strategies for dealing with concerns about your health and anxious feelings related to your well-being.
There’s also comfort in knowing that you’re not alone, and that there are lots of people out there dealing with the same illness anxiety symptoms as you. This type of anxiety support may help to make dealing with bad health anxiety an easier process.
However, taking part in a health anxiety forum can also have disadvantages. One potential risk is that by reading about diseases, disorders and other conditions that other people affected by illness anxiety worry about, you may yourself start to worry about these conditions.
Another potential disadvantage of forums is that the quality of information can vary greatly from one online community to another, meaning you might not always get reliable information about treatment options or techniques for coping with anxiety.
Because of this, it’s important not to treat online forum advice as a replacement for instructions from your healthcare provider.
Taking part in a health anxiety forum can potentially be a helpful way to manage some feelings of anxiety and understand that you’re not alone.
However, if you have illness anxiety disorder, or experience frequent worries about your health, it’s important to seek help from a mental health professional.
You can access expert help for illness anxiety disorder by asking your primary care provider for a mental health referral, or from home using our online psychiatry services.
Health anxiety is almost always treatable with medication, therapy, changes to your daily life, or a combination of different approaches. Your mental health provider may recommend:
Taking an antidepressant to control your symptoms. Antidepressants are often used to manage anxiety symptoms, including as medications for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). They’re also commonly used to treat illness anxiety disorder.
If you’re prescribed an antidepressant, it may take several weeks to start working. If you don’t feel any immediate improvements, make sure to continue using your medication as prescribed for at least two to four weeks before assessing your results.
Trying cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a type of psychotherapy that involves identifying and changing the ways you think, behave and react to situations that cause you to feel anxious.
A variety of different approaches are used as part of CBT for anxiety, including exposure therapy, which involves gradually confronting your fears in a safe, controlled setting with your mental health provider.
We offer online therapy in our range of mental health services, letting you connect with licensed provider from the privacy of your home.
Taking part in a support group. In addition to using online resources and communities, taking part in a support group can help you to learn new strategies for coping with health anxiety.
Many large and medium-sized cities have local support groups for people with anxiety. If you prefer more privacy or want to take part in a support group from home, you can also connect with others anonymously using our judgment-free online support groups.
Making changes to your daily habits. Sometimes, small things like exercising daily or practicing mindfulness can help to relieve stress and make symptoms of health anxiety less severe.
Our list of lifestyle choices for calming anxiety shares effective habits that you can use to make dealing with illness-related anxiety an easier process.
Health anxiety, or illness anxiety disorder, is a real mental health issue that can take a significant toll on your well-being.
If you suffer from health anxiety, taking part in a forum can help you to connect with other people with similar symptoms, discuss your daily life and learn helpful techniques for dealing with stress and feelings of worry.
However, it’s important not to let tips from a discussion board replace the advice and information you receive from your healthcare provider.
If you think you might suffer from health anxiety or another anxiety disorder, it’s important to get professional help. You can access help from home by taking part in an online psychiatric mental health consultation via our telehealth platform.
If appropriate, you may be prescribed medication or advised to participate in therapy to help you control your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
Want to learn more about anxiety before you get started? Our guide to the symptoms of anxiety in women lists common warning signs that you may suffer from anxiety disorder, as well as the steps that you can take to get long-term, lasting relief.
Start your mental wellness journey today.