It’s easy to worry about your health during flu season, which is rapidly approaching, but for some people, worrying about health becomes an obsession. Psychiatrists classify this disorder as “health anxiety,” but it’s more commonly known as hypochondria. It only affects one to two percent of the population, but a new study has revealed that people who suffer from hypochondria are more likely to develop serious health issues.
A large study from Norway took into account the health of 7,052 participants from the Norwegian Hordaland Health Study, which is a long-term research project by the National Health Screening Service and the University of Bergen. On top of the 13 years of data that had already been collected, the researchers studied participants’ level of anxiety and their health during times of stress.
After taking these factors into account, the researchers found that approximately 3.3% of the participants experienced a heart attack or acute angina. Of those 3.3%, twice as many had health anxiety as those who did not.
If patients had high levels of health anxiety, they were 70% more likely to develop issues with heart health during their lives.
While the research did conclude that anxiety should be considered a risk factor for heart disease, there was no causality assessment performed. Simply put, there still isn’t a concrete reason why health anxiety is connected to heart disease. Does awareness of symptoms cause the anxiety, or does the anxiety cause the symptoms?
Line Iden Berge, one of the researchers and a PhD candidate at the University of Bergen in Norway, explained that before the study was conducted, she expected the results to show just the opposite of what they did.
Stress, however, is a major reason that employees take time off. A new report assessing the health of workers in Britain found that 25% of employees called in sick due to high amounts of stress.
Stress and anxiety release a hormone called cortisol, which according to “The Stress Test: How Pressure Can Make You Stronger and Sharper” author Ian Roberrtson, “can have corrosive effects on various organs in the body and increase” with prolonged exposure.
Approximately 60% of anxiety-prone individuals exhibited significant improvement in their condition after six to nine months of meditating, but even with simple solutions available, people may not feel like dealing with the issue at hand.
Despite the adverse effects of stress and health anxiety, many people don’t feel the need to approach anyone about it. The reports from Britain revealed that over 500 people out of 1,000 surveyed would rather keep it private.