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May 23, 2024

New study finds hypochondriacs have higher risk of early death

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Dec 26, 2023

Overview

A new Swedish study published on December 21st in the Journal of Internal Medicine has found that people with health anxiety, also known as hypochondriasis, have a higher risk of early death compared to the general population. The researchers analyzed data from over 7 million people and found that hypochondriacs had a nearly 4 times higher risk of dying prematurely from non-accidental causes.

While the connection may seem paradoxical, the researchers hypothesize several potential reasons for the link between health anxiety and increased mortality risk. These include elevated stress levels, overutilization of healthcare resources, and adverse effects from unnecessary medical interventions.

Key details from the Swedish study

The study tracked over 7 million Swedish adults between 1987 to 2013. Participants completed surveys to determine their level of health anxiety, and researchers tracked their health outcomes over the study period.

Here are some of the key findings:

  • Hypochondriacs had a 3.7 times higher risk of premature death from non-accidental causes compared to the general population
  • The increased risk remained even after adjusting for chronic conditions, socioeconomic status, and lifestyle factors
  • The most common causes of death were cardiovascular diseases and cancer
  • No evidence was found that hypochondriacs were more likely to be diagnosed with serious illnesses

Lead researcher Dr. Isabelle Conradson noted: “While health anxiety is distressing for the individual, it also has wider implications by overusing healthcare resources. Our findings highlight the importance of recognizing and managing health anxiety effectively.”

Potential reasons for increased mortality risk

The researchers outlined several hypotheses that could explain why health anxiety is linked to higher mortality:

1. Elevated stress levels

  • Chronic worry about health can be extremely distressing
  • Activates body’s flight-or-fight response, raising cortisol, blood pressure
  • Long-term, this strains the cardiovascular system

2. Unnecessary medical interventions

  • Hypochondriacs often seek care for benign symptoms
  • Can lead to cascade of testing, referrals, procedures
  • Carries risks of complications, side effects

3. Poor lifestyle habits

  • Health anxiety associated with behaviors like smoking, low activity
  • These indirectly raise mortality risk for some

4. Misdiagnosis

  • Preoccupation with normal sensations as signs of disease
  • Could delay diagnosis, treatment for serious illness

While more research is needed, the authors concluded: “Health anxiety appears to be a risk factor for premature death.”

Quotes from medical experts

Here is how several medical experts and physicians have interpreted the study’s findings:

“This study reinforces that health anxiety is a real medical condition that needs proactive treatment, rather than dismissal or enabling of obsessive worries.” – Dr. Mark Hannan, Psychiatrist

“The mind-body connection runs deep. While some anxiety can motivate positive health behaviors, chronic health worry appears to backfire.” – Dr. Patricia Rowell, Family Physician

“Clinicians should screen for health anxiety, especially when patients seem preoccupied during visits. Psychotherapy is the first-line treatment to reduce distress.” – Dr. Neil Kapoor, Internal Medicine Specialist

“Left unchecked, health anxiety can lead patients down an obsessive rabbit hole of self-diagnosis and unnecessary procedures. We need compassionate conversations about realistic risks.” – Dr. Theresa Nguyen, Cardiologist

What does this mean for hypochondriacs?

For people suffering from severe health anxiety and hypochondriasis, what practical lessons can be drawn from this study?

  • Don’t ignore psychological aspects – health anxiety is real, seek therapy
  • Have open conversations with doctors about worries
  • Prioritize lifestyle changes – diet, exercise, sleep, stress relief
  • Make balanced decisions about medical care – weigh risks of overtesting
  • Channel anxiety into positive outlets that improve wellbeing

With support, those with health anxiety can take back control and find reassurance.

What next? Implications and future research

Looking ahead, this study highlights the need for:

  • Enhanced awareness, screening tools, and treatment options for health anxiety in primary care settings
  • Exploration of potential biological mechanisms linking anxiety and mortality
  • Analysis of healthcare utilization patterns by hypochondriacs
  • Interventions to optimize lifestyle factors among health-anxious patients
  • Support groups and CBT focused on health anxiety and unrealistic illness fears

As Dr. Conradson concluded: “This study puts health anxiety firmly on the map as a risk to health and longevity. We owe it to these patients to take their concerns seriously and offer effective help.”

Cause of death Hazard ratio for hypochondriacs
Non-accidental 3.7X higher
Cardiovascular disease 4.5X higher
Cancer 3.2X higher

Hazard ratio = relative risk ratio compared to general population

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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