5 ways to help patients with health anxiety

Look out for 'cyberchondria', which is one clue a patient may have the condition

Most patients have health worries — that’s probably why they’re in a GP surgery — but when that tips over into persistent and excessive fears, this is known as health anxiety.

And one of the least helpful things doctors can do for these patients, experiencing what was previously called hypochondriasis, is to reassure them, say Swedish and UK health anxiety researchers.

“Reassurance to patients with health anxiety is like an addictive drug; it provides immediate relief but wears off quickly,” they write in the BMJ.

Four clues that point towards a patient having health anxiety are worries about health that repeatedly resurface despite reassurances; frequent attendance; ‘cyberchondria’, or excessive time searching for online health information; and health fears that lead to functional impairment.

The experts, including UK GP Dr John Hague, offer five ways to help a