Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder characterized by obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors that interfere with daily functioning. It’s estimated that 2 to 3 percent of people in the United States live with OCD, but research shows many more are living with the disorder and simply don’t know it. One type of OCD that is particularly prevalent today is Health OCD, which is when an individual has intrusive thoughts and doubts about their health or physical appearance. In this blog post, we will discuss what Health OCD is, its symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options, and how to cope with it if you’re living with this type of OCD.
What is Health OCD?
Health OCD is a type of OCD that is characterized by an excessive preoccupation with health and wellness. People with Health OCD may obsessively research health information, seek reassurance from medical professionals, or engage in compulsions such as excessive hand-washing or checking for symptoms. Health OCD can be debilitating and can interfere with work, school, and social functioning.
Health OCD is usually treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and/or medication. With treatment, people can learn to manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
The Different Types of Health OCD
There are different types of Health OCD, all with different symptoms. Here are some of the most common:
Hoarding: People with this type of OCD often hoard medication, first aid supplies, or anything else they think they might need in case of an emergency. They may have a hard time throwing anything away, even if it’s expired or no longer needed.
Checking: People with checking compulsions often feel the need to check things over and over again. This can include checking to see if doors are locked, ovens are off, or the appliance is unplugged. Checking can also extend to compulsive counting or repeated hand-washing.
Contamination: People with contamination obsessions are afraid of germs and dirt. They may obsessively clean their homes or themselves and have a hard time touching anything they consider dirty.
Health Anxiety: This type of OCD is characterized by constant worry about one’s health. Even if there is no reason to be concerned, people with health anxiety will imagine the worst and obsess over possible illnesses or injuries.
Hypochondria: People with this type of OCD are preoccupied with the fear of having or developing a serious illness. They may constantly research health topics, ask lots of questions to their doctor, and worry excessively about their health.
What are the Symptoms of Health OCD?
Signs of health OCD typically include:
Intrusive Thoughts or Obsessions
One of the most common symptoms of health OCD is having persistent and intrusive thoughts or obsessions related to the fear of illness or death. Thoughts are typically focused on a specific health issue, such as cancer, and can be accompanied by a range of emotions from fear to disgust.
Checking and Reassurance Seeking
People with health OCD often repeatedly seek reassurance regarding their fears. This can include asking family or friends for opinions or researching medical information online. Checking behaviors also often occur, such as constantly checking body parts for signs/symptoms of an illness.
To reduce anxiety surrounding the fear of illness, people with health OCD may develop patterns of avoidance behavior that can interfere with everyday life. For example, avoiding medical facilities like hospitals or doctors’ offices; avoiding activities that could increase one’s risk for illness (i.e., swimming in public pools); avoiding talking about certain subjects related to illness; avoiding being around sick people; and avoiding any thoughts related to illness or death.
Compulsive rituals can take many forms, including excessive hand-washing, avoiding certain numbers or foods that may be perceived as “unhealthy”, taking an excessive number of vitamins/supplements, and repeating certain phrases in the mind or out loud.
People with health OCD tend to experience frequent and intense worrying about their health and the health of those around them. Furthermore, This can often lead to feelings of anxiety and distress, which can disrupt daily functioning.
Causes of Health OCD
There are many potential causes of Health OCD. Some people may be predisposed to developing OCD due to genetic factors. Additionally, people who have experienced traumatic events or who have a history of mental illness may be more likely to develop OCD.
Other potential causes of Health OCD include:
One of the most common reasons for health OCD is an excessive amount of stress or anxiety. People who are under a lot of stress may find themselves worrying excessively about their health, even when there’s no real reason to be concerned.
Chemical imbalances in the brain
An imbalance of certain types of chemicals in the brain can also contribute to Health OCD. Serotonin and dopamine are two important neurotransmitters that help regulate our mood and behavior. Abnormal levels of these chemicals can lead to obsessive thoughts and compulsions around health-related issues.
People who have certain personality traits may be more likely to develop Health OCD. Traits such as perfectionism, obsessive thinking, and an inability to relax can all increase someone’s risk of developing this disorder.
Environmental factors such as a person’s upbringing and current surroundings can also play a role in the development of Health OCD. For example, people who grow up in an environment where they are constantly exposed to images or stories about illness or disease may become overly focused on their health and obsess over potential illnesses they may have.
Also, having an anxiety disorder may increase a person’s risk of developing Health OCD. People with anxiety disorders tend to have an exaggerated fear of the unknown and may become overly focused on their health to cope with their worries.
One of the most common mental health conditions that can lead to Health OCD is depression. People who are depressed may become excessively focused on their physical health to distract themselves from their negative thoughts and feelings.
Pros and Cons of Health OCD
There are both pros and cons to having health OCD. On the plus side, individuals with this type of OCD tend to be very proactive about their health and take measures to prevent themselves from becoming ill. They may also be more likely to catch early signs of illness and seek treatment right away.
Some of the PROS of having health OCD include:
Being more aware of potential health risks and taking action to prevent them.
One of the biggest potential benefits of health OCD is that it can lead to better overall health and well-being. By being more aware of potential risks, individuals can take action to prevent illnesses and other health complications.
Being vigilant about symptoms of illness and seeking treatment right away.
If individuals can recognize the early signs of illness, they may be able to get treatment sooner before things get worse. This can potentially save them a lot of time, energy, and money in the long run.
Having an increased interest in healthy habits and lifestyle choices.
Individuals with health OCD tend to be more conscious of their diet, exercise habits, sleep patterns, stress levels, etc., which can ultimately lead to better physical and mental health over time.
Some of the CONS of having health OCD include:
Obsessing over minor symptoms or perceived risks.
Furthermore, Health OCD can cause people to worry obsessively about minor symptoms or even imagined ones that don’t necessarily indicate any real risk or problem with their health. This can lead to unnecessary worry and stress that can interfere with daily life activities.
Being overly critical about one’s health status or well-being.
Individuals with health OCD may become overly critical of their own physical and mental health status, leading to feelings of inadequacy or low self-esteem. This can be especially damaging if it leads to a lack of self-care or avoidance of medical treatment out of fear or guilt.
Getting stuck in a cycle of worry and distress.
The obsessive worrying that is associated with health OCD can lead individuals to get stuck in an endless cycle of fear and distress. It can hurt their mental and emotional well-being.
Spending too much time researching symptoms and treatments.
Health OCD can cause people to spend excessive amounts of time researching symptoms, treatments, medications, etc., which can be both time-consuming and ultimately unhelpful if the information is inaccurate or outdated.
Overall, having health OCD can be both beneficial and detrimental to an individual’s physical and mental health. It is important to find a balance between being proactive about one’s health and not becoming overly obsessed with minor symptoms or perceived risks.
How to Treat Health OCD?
There are many ways to treat health OCD, and the approach that is best for each individual may vary. Some people may find relief with medication, while others may find that therapy is the best option. Here are some common treatments for health OCD:
1. Exposure and response prevention (ERP): This treatment involves gradually exposing yourself to the things that trigger your health anxiety and learning to cope with the anxiety without engaging in compulsive behaviors.
2. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Furthermore, CBT can help you challenge the negative thoughts and beliefs that contribute to your health OCD.
3. Medication: Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications may be prescribed to help reduce your symptoms of health OCD.
4. Relaxation techniques: Practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation can help you manage your anxiety. Also, eases your symptoms of health OCD.
Health OCD can be a challenging condition to live with and manage. But with the right help and support, it is possible to cope. If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with Health OCD, remember that there are resources available to provide information and support. By learning more about Health OCD, understanding yourself better, and finding ways to manage your symptoms, you can learn how to live a healthy life despite this condition.
For more information and guidance, please contact OCDMantra. OCD is a mental health disorder characterized by obsessions and compulsions. If you have any queries regarding OCD treatment, ERP therapy experienced therapists at OCDMantra can help: Book a trial OCD therapy session.