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Don’t worry, be healthy

A new study has found people who are really anxious about developing an illness can actually end up getting sick.

The prospective cohort study of 7052 people over 12 years, published online in BMJ Open, found people with health anxiety have around a 70 per cent increased risk of developing ischaemic heart disease.

Typically, we think of women as being more proactive when it comes to looking after our health than men. This is, of course, a sweeping generalisation, but the ‘she’ll be right’ approach hasn’t worked particularly well for Kiwi men who are overrepresented across all mortality stats for preventable illnesses.

But what happens when being conscientious about your health goes too far?  If you’re anything like me, there are times when your imagination runs a little wild and a touch of hypochondria creeps in.   I become convinced an innocuous sore toe is the onset of ankylosing spondylitis, or a tension headache could well be the early sign of a brain tumour… None of this is helped, of course, by Dr Google who is happy to match your symptoms to all sorts of weird and wonderful deadly diseases.

A little worry can be a good thing when it motivates you to get your symptoms checked out by your GP, for example. But when your doctor sees more of you than their own children, maybe the line between being ‘worried well’ or ‘worried sick’ is crossed.

So, if you find yourself on the wrong side of the line a little too often, perhaps the next GP visit is a good opportunity to discuss health anxiety.

 

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First published: Nov 2016
Last updated: March 12 2019
Last science review: November 24 2016



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