Some people worry excessively that they have a serious illness or are going to develop one, a disorder commonly called hypochondria or health anxiety. Might such fear and unease be hard on the heart?
The study involved 7,052 adults (average age 43), including 710 people considered to have health anxiety. Over a decade, 234 participants developed heart disease: 6 percent of those with health anxiety compared with 3 percent of the others. After accounting for potentially contributing factors, people with health anxiety were 71 percent more likely to have developed heart disease than were those who were not overly anxious about their health. The greater the degree of health anxiety, the higher the risk for heart disease.
People who are preoccupied with their physical health, to the point of being unrealistically fearful of having a serious disease, even without supporting medical evidence. This can create a cycle of symptoms and worry that can be hard to stop. As a result, people with more-severe cases sometimes develop depression, anxiety or panic disorder. The official diagnostic term for health anxiety or hypochondria is illness anxiety disorder.
Data on health anxiety came from the participants’ responses on questionnaires.
Online Nov. 3 in BMJ Open (bmjopen.bmj.com).
The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals.