_A_Girl_suffering_form_anxietyHealth anxiety is better known as its former name, hypochondria.  This is a persistent and unwarranted fear of getting a serious health problem like cancer.  This is also one of the most common anxiety disorders in the general population.  According to Professor Tyrer, head of the mental health at the Imperial College London, at least 1% of the UK’s population suffer from health anxiety.

Causes of Health Anxiety

Mental health professionals are not sure why some people develop health anxiety and some do not.  Some people may have witnessed a lingering death of a loved one and fear that the same thing will happen to them.  Others may develop health anxiety as part of another mental illness.

The Internet has been both a blessing and a curse for the medical profession.  Patients can quickly look up symptoms to see if they are serious enough to go to a doctor.  However, they may also leap to conclusions and ask for more appointments, tests and diagnostic imaging than they really need.  The Internet may be one reason why mental health professionals are reporting more cases of health anxiety than ever.

Symptoms of Health Anxiety

It can be difficult for doctors and therapists to diagnose health anxiety because the symptoms are different for each sufferer.  It also can hard to distinguish unfounded worried from real worries.  For example, a person who suffers from migraines may naturally worry if he or she has a brain tumor.  But someone with health anxiety will keep asking for more tests even after the first one or two tests clearly show that a brain tumor is not present.

People with health anxiety need constant reassurance that they do not have a potentially deadly or crippling condition.  Signs that you or a loved one may have health anxiety include:

  • Spending more and more time online looking up medical information
  • Refusing to go to outings with family or friends in case they are sick
  • Going to more doctors and looking for more doctors to go to
  • Talking more and more about your symptoms
  • An inability to be calmed by a diagnostic test showing that they are okay

Treatments for Health Anxiety

The good news about health anxiety is that it is treatable.  There is no one right way to treat hypochondria for everyone.  Patients may need a combination of treatments in order to get back to living a more normal life.  Some patients may be suffering with other anxiety conditions as well as health anxiety.

Treatment is often a combination of drugs and cognitive behavior therapy.  Drugs may be taken for the rest of the patient’s life or for a short time only, depending on the patient’s individual circumstance.  Drugs given for health anxiety include:

  • SSRI antidepressants like fluoxetine (Prozac) or paroxetine (Paxil)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants like clomipramine (Anafranil)
  • Anti-anxiety medications like benzodiazepines
  • Beta-blockers, a type of high blood pressure medication

Patients also do well to write about their anxieties in a special journal.  This helps to relieve stress.  It can also be shared with doctors and therapists.

Links for More Information



I have to go to the dentist.  Will I survive? Or will an alien leap out of my face?

I have dental phobia.  I didn’t even know it had an official name until I researched this article.  Dental phobia is an extreme, irrational fear of anything having to do with dentists.  Yes, I know dentists are good for me, but that irrational doubt lingers in the back of my mind.  I’ve been so scared of dentists that I was once 16 years between dental visits.  But I have no choice but to go to a dentist ASAP.  How am I coping with my dental phobia?

I Think There’s An Alien In My Face

Back in 2005.  I had pain in one tooth.  It was so bad that my Mom convinced me to see her dentist.  While I was in the chair, he said, “As long as you’re here, let’s do five more teeth.”  I did reasonably well for the first couple of teeth, and then burst into tears, begging to go home.  I was shaking so bad that I had to have them fill out the check.  I was 36 years old at the time.  These are the signs of dental phobia.

In the wee hours of Friday morning, my upper jaw woke me up.  (They always do this hideously early, don’t they?)  I thought my face was going into labor contractions.  I somehow convinced myself it was just clogged sinuses , got some relief taking a decongestant, and went back to bed.  Later on in the day, the pain returned.  I can’t help but thinking an alien planted an embryo in my upper jaw and now the baby wants to burst out (just call me Ms. Hurt).  I know there is no real logic to this, but stranger things have happened to me.

The earliest appointment I could get with the dentist was Monday afternoon.  In the meantime, his office prescribed me antibiotics.  Here’s a free tip — never have a toothache over the weekend.  I really don’t recommend it.  But get someone else to make the appointment.  That I do recommend.

“Darn Your Logic, Spock!”

There have only been two ways I have so far been able to cope with my current bout of dental phobia:

  1. Consider the alternative — a      life of pain
  2. Laugh about it.           
  3. Write about it

Oh no, wait — that’s three things.  See what the dental phobia is doing to me?  I can’t count.

I’ve watched so much Star Trek that I hear the crew talking to me when I go into panic mode.  Hey, there are worse voices to have in your head.  Mr. Spock usually is the main voice.  “It is illogical to be afraid of the person who ca get rid of your jaw pain, Miss Sherwood.”

“Darn your logic, Spock!”  Spits Dr. McCoy.  “This is the beginning of the twenty-first century with butcher knives and foot pedal drills and needles as long as your ears!  Be afraid!”

For some reason, this makes me laugh and I can relax.  “Miss Sherwood,” says Mr. Spock, undaunted.  “Have you ever been to the dentist and failed to get out alive?”

“I’ve never died at the dentist, Spock.”

“Then logic dictates that you will survive your dental appointment and all subsequent ones.”

“Unless,” says Dr. McCoy, “you have a psycho dentist.”

Wait a minute…Psycho Dentist…that would make a great name for a short story! (Or a Stephen King novel).  I’m a writer — I need all the inspiration I can get.

So, instead of stewing in fear, I’m writing all about my fear.  And laughing at myself.  I think the chances of an alien actually popping out of my face is almost nil…almost…

Hope this helps somebody else out there with dental phobia.