Case Examples of Health Anxiety

George, a lawyer, living with his wife and two children, had always been a health conscious person but had never experienced any major health concerns.  A particularly stressful bout at work, however, brought on headaches and abdominal pain.  Though he was reassured by doctors that these were stress-related, George became worried, over time, that these symptoms signaled the onset of a a major illness or serious medical disorder.  He became obsessed with looking up his symptoms online, making appointments with various health specialists, and demanding specialized tests, despite the absence of any results indicating concerns.  Any new physical abnormality that he detected in his body triggered another round of worry and doctor’s visits. When it became clear to him that these obsessions were interfering with his daily life, he sought cognitive behavioral treatment.  He was diagnosed with Health Anxiety.   A course of therapy, involving exposure to feared illnesses and consequences of illness and a reframing of irrational beliefs surrounding the physical sensations in his body, allowed him to return to his work and family life with less worry and anxiety surrounding his health.

Mike, a 21 year old college student suffered from anxiety ever since he was a child. His mother remembers his difficulty separating from her to attend pre-school and his hesitation at parties and crowded events. When he was 12, his grandmother died of cancer and he had a tough time adjusting to middle school. Soon after this, he began experiencing panic attacks which he learned to cope with the help of cognitive behvioral therapy. At age 20, his anxiety took a turn for the worse after witnessing his neighbor being taken in an ambulance after experiencing a heart attack. Mike began to have persistent fears about his own health, specifically regarding his heart and the fear of getting an unexpected heart attack. He began to avoid engaging in any physical activity to prevent physical symptoms of increased heart rate and heavy breathing and would constantly check his heart throughout the day to make sure it was working properly. He would also check the internet for news stories related to heart attacks as well as medical websites to read more about the signs and symptoms of heart related conditions. When Mike first came to treatment, he was experiencing panic attacks on a daily basis and was restricted to his home environment, unable to function after having to take a leave of absence from his 3rd year of college. Mike engaged in intensive CBT treatment in which he gradually exposed himself to internal sensations that he feared as well as environments and activities that created intense anxiety, such as crowded places, driving long distances, and visiting medical facilities. After 6 months of intensive treatment, Mike’s panic attacks reduced significantly. After another couple of months of treatment, Mike was able to enroll in college courses and work part time.

 

If you feel you or a loved one may suffer from Health Anxiety, contact us at

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