Hypochondria, also called Hypochondriasis or Health Anxiety, is best described as the obsessive, irrational fear of having a serious medical condition. Health Anxiety is based on an individual's misinterpretation of symptoms, and exists despite medical reassurance that the individual does not have a disease or illness.
How prevelent is health anxiety

It is estimated that 4-6% of the population has clinically significant hypochondria. Furthermore, recent research suggests that up to 10% of all visits to primary care physicians may be due to hypochondriacal fears.

Hypochondria has numerous obsessive-compulsive features that are quite similar to those of OCD.

One essential difference between the two conditions is that those with OCD often fear getting a disease, while those with hypochondria fear already having a disease.

Some common examples of compulsions seen in Health Anxiety include:
  • Multiple doctor visits, sometimes "doctor-hopping" on the same day
  • Multiple medical tests, often for the same alleged condition
  • Repetitive checking of the body for symptoms of an alleged medical condition
  • Repeatedly avoiding contact with objects or situations for fear of exposure to diseases
  • Habitual internet searching for information about illnesses and their symptoms

How does it occur?

The onset of health anxiety can be at any age. However, commonly it starts in adolescence or in young adults. The usual course of health anxiety is to come and go depending on various life stresses but some people have long-term or chronic health anxiety.

It may be more common in women and occurs in about 5% of patients attending a GP’s surgery. Not everyone has the same experience of health anxiety – it partly depends on the severity of your problem and the culture you are from. The preoccupation in Health Anxiety can start with bodily functions (heartbeat or sweating), minor physical abnormalities (a sore or a cough) or with vague and ambiguous physical sensations (tired lungs). The person attributes these symptoms or signs to the suspected disease and is very concerned with their meaning, authenticity, and what gave rise to them. 

Repeated physical examinations, diagnostic tests, and reassurance from the physician do little to allay the concern about bodily disease or affliction.The more people are told there do not have the disease they more anxious they will become and this cycle continues.


Concern about the feared illness will becomes a central feature of the individual’s self-image, a frequent topic of conversation, and a response to life stresses. Individuals with Health Anxiety may become alarmed by reading or hearing about disease, knowing someone who became sick, or from observations, sensations, or occurrences within their own bodies.

No long term follow up studies have been done but some people with health anxiety will have a chronic condition. If left untreated, then the condition is likely to persist.

Good news

Recent research studies at both Harvard University and the Mayo Clinic have found that CBT is the most effective treatment for Health Anxiety. CBT helps clients learn to challenge their hypochondriacal fears, as well as the compulsive and avoidance behaviors they use to cope with their health-related anxiety.

CBT for Health Anxiety will normally consist of between 12 and 15 sessions.