Is health anxiety a form of OCD?

I have been asked this question many times by clients and decided to put the answer here to help others.

The short answer, in terms of diagnostic criteria, is that health anxiety is not a form of OCD.

As you may have read on my site or if you have attended therapy with me, you will know that I have specialised in anxiety and OCD for many years now, and I can see why you would ask the question. I shall expand on the quick answer, and highlight similarities and differences between the two conditions.

Understanding OCD and Health Anxiety

If you haven’t done so already, you might want to read my main page on health anxiety.

Before we can determine if health anxiety is a form of OCD, it is important to understand what each of these conditions entails. OCD is characterized by

  • Intrusive thoughts and repetitive behaviours.
  • The thoughts, obsessions, can fall into themes, such as worried you might have caused harm, they can also focus on health related fears, which I appreciate blurs the line between the two conditions.
  • The person feels compelled to perform rituals (compulsions) such as checking or cleaning to ease distress.
  • These thoughts and behaviours can be distressing and interfere with daily life.

Health anxiety, on the other hand, is when you

  • become excessively preoccupied and worried about your health.
  • you worry that you possibly have a serious illness, even though repeated tests show otherwise,
  • you misinterpret the feelings in your body as a sign that something really is wrong with you.

Similarities between OCD and Health Anxiety

Both involve intrusive thoughts and excessive worrying, and both can lead to compulsive behaviours.

One of the key similarities between OCD and health anxiety is the presence of obsessions and compulsions. In OCD, obsessions are unwanted and intrusive thoughts that cause distress, while compulsions are repetitive behaviours or mental acts that a person feels compelled to perform in order to alleviate their anxiety. In health anxiety, the obsessions may revolve around fears of having a serious illness, while the compulsions may involve constantly checking for symptoms or seeking reassurance from others.

Because of the similarities between OCD and health anxiety, they can often be treated using similar methods. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common treatment for both conditions, as it helps individuals identify and challenge their negative thoughts and develop healthier coping mechanisms. Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may also be prescribed to help manage symptoms.


Content. The focus of health anxiety is on one subject; the person’s health, whereas if you have OCD you can obsess about several different themes.

Insight. People with OCD tend to have good insight that their worries are as a result of having a mental health condition whereas a person with health anxiety is less likely to chalk their worries down to having health anxiety.


In conclusion, while health anxiety and OCD may have some similarities, they are two distinct conditions that require proper diagnosis and treatment. If you or someone you know is struggling with health anxiety or OCD, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional. With the right treatment, individuals can learn to manage their symptoms and improve their overall quality of life. Remember, mental health is just as important as physical health, and seeking help is a sign of strength.

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