- Health anxiety describes a person’s preoccupation with health and illness, whether it’s based on reality or not.
- The researchers found that financial resources and health anxiety may be related.
- Political action can help reduce inequalities in health issues such as anxiety.
Financial resources can affect a person’s many health conditions and the treatments they receive. But new research suggests it may also affect the level of health anxiety people feel.
Researchers at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany are the first to systematically examine the link between health anxiety and social inequality.
What is health anxiety?
Health anxiety can exist at any point on the spectrum, and can include excruciating concerns about an individual’s health, even if those concerns are not reflected by a medical professional.
They found that social determinants of health, such as a patient’s socioeconomic status, do contribute to health anxiety, which can be caused by a number of factors. For example, people with fewer financial resources already face higher rates of morbidity than people from more affluent backgrounds due to medical and mental health conditions, more difficult experiences of illness and death, and higher barriers to health care (such as cost).
What is Illness Anxiety Disorder?
Dr Lewis Anderson, a postdoctoral researcher in Oxford University’s Department of Sociology, told West via email: “I find health inequality deeply disturbing, especially because it is driven by economic inequality.” Although Anderson was not involved in the current research, but he studies health inequalities.
“It goes too far when differences in resources and status translate into a person experiencing more pain, mental pain and ultimately a shorter lifespan,” Anderson said.
The study was published in journal of mind-body research in December.
More inequality, more health anxiety
To analyze health anxiety and socioeconomic status, the researchers categorized previous studies linking the two. They want to understand the social determinants of health known to affect other health conditions, It also works in people with health anxiety.
In total, 37 prior studies including nearly 28,000 people were trended. Of these studies, 27 screened for health anxiety using validated self-rating scales, while the remainder were measured by diagnostic interviews. Socioeconomic status is determined through indicators such as education, income and occupation.
In examining trends in these studies, the researchers concluded that social determinants of health — such as a patient’s socioeconomic status — do contribute to health anxiety.
Risks of using the Internet for self-diagnosis
But this trend is difficult to unravel because it can be due to a variety of factors. People with fewer financial resources are more likely to get sick, so they may have more anxiety about illness. Difficulty accessing health care can also exacerbate these feelings. There may also be a link between people’s negative experiences with healthcare and the anxiety they face.
Regardless of the combination, the authors list all of these factors and more. At the end of the day, health anxiety, whether related to a diagnosable/treatable physical condition or not, can have a significant impact on someone’s quality of life.
In addition to the pain it brings to a person’s life and relationships, health anxiety can lead to a huge financial burden if people continually seek care that is unnecessary or beyond medically necessary.
They may also be outside the health care system — putting them at risk — or without the education (or access to) needed to safely navigate these pursuits.
Learning about health anxiety is a challenge
People who struggle with health anxiety used to be called “hypochondria.” Due to its derogatory connotation, the term is no longer used in the medical field.
Illness Anxiety Disorder (IAD) or Somatic Symptom Disorder (SSD) can now be diagnosed when the focus is on having a serious illness that causes distress and persists, even when they are deemed medically unfounded. It may seem like someone is interpreting common bodily sensations, such as a mild headache, as signs of a serious illness, such as brain cancer.
But these types of preoccupation = hard to measure.
“First and foremost, health anxiety is a very vague concept,” Anderson said. It raises all kinds of questions, such as:
- If I do get sick a lot, is it health anxiety?
- What level of anxiety is considered “morbid”?
- What if I have symptoms that my doctor can’t explain, but it’s because they’re missing something?
Despite the inherent difficulties in measuring health anxiety, the study clearly summarizes the evidence for how health anxiety is linked to socioeconomic status, Anderson said. For example, it shows us that, given the research that already exists, “higher health anxiety is found to be more common among people with lower socioeconomic status, just as low socioeconomic status is associated with nearly every other aspect of poor health. same,” he said.
Study: Googling your symptoms may lead to better diagnosis
But these studies did not use the same measurement techniques. They use different health anxiety scales and interview formats, which means they may inadvertently measure different things.
“It’s hard to say that the studies analyzed here are all investigating the same thing,” Anderson said.
the way forward
Whatever the actual link between socioeconomic status and health anxiety, this research sheds new light on the disaster that arises when quality health care is associated with wealth.
Researchers have proposed that the average health of a population depends on how unequal the distribution of income is. A smaller gap between the lowest and highest earners, then, means that the average health of the entire population is higher.
“The resources, status, political power and health of different groups are all closely related,” Anderson said, whether it seems so or not.
Anderson believes that closing the health gap between the rich and the poor will first require political effort. But if it becomes the primary concern, it will “enable the healthcare system to provide a good standard of care, regardless of a person’s socioeconomic status,” he added.