Friday, February 03, 2023 | Rajab 11, 1444 H
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EDITOR IN CHIEF- ABDULLAH BIN SALIM AL SHUEILI

What is health anxiety disorder?

A man in his mid-forties came to the clinic with his wife carrying a think file of his medical tests and reports. He said that he has seen several consultant in the private and government hospital looking for treatment for his problems that started three years ago.


He feels pain in different parts of his body but all his tests are normal. He would be very anxious before going to the hospital telling his wife that he is going to die soon. He kept moving between doctors locally and abroad doing more than 100 blood tests and all reported normal. Despite doctors’ reassurance he could not stop himself from seeking consultations.


This man suffers from a condition called “illness anxiety disorder” which is a psychological problem where the person becomes preoccupied with his health worrying excessively that he may become seriously ill, even when the doctors tell him that all medical tests are normal.


Some patients experience extreme anxiety that they interpret normal body sensations like a mild headache or feeling tired as a sign of undetected serious illnesses.


As a result, the person’s life becomes affected as he is unable to focus on his job or enjoy being with friends and family. Some patients end up talking about their health worries whenever they meet a friend which does not help as some friends would recommend new doctors, which feeds on the initial problem.


This condition affects both men and women from different age groups but may get worse with aging especially when the person has limited social activities so worrying about his health takes up most of his time.


There are a few possible explanations of what causes illness anxiety disorders but the main ones focus on the affected person misinterpretation of common bodily sensations while other theories focus on the reward that the affected person gets from people around him so he or she such as getting more sympathy and exemption from work or other social duties.


So how can you help a friend or a family member who has illness anxiety disorder?


The first step is to educate your self about this condition by reading medical information from trusted resources and discourage the person from excessive checking for his symptoms.


Try to distract him with other activists or new hobbies. Help him develop effective coping skills such as reminding oneself that the problem is the anxiety not the physical symptoms.


Help him identify his thinking errors such as jumping to conclusions, making assumptions, imagining worst-case.


Encourage him to do some inspirational reading, self-calming and relaxation techniques such as breathing and muscle relaxation techniques and mindful walking.


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