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Pregnancy-specific health anxiety: symptom or diagnosis?

02 May 2019
Volume 27 · Issue 5


Anxiety is an innate human response to situations that cause fear, worry or concern. One such type is health anxiety. Health anxiety is a term derived from hypochondriasis and divided into two disorders: illness anxiety disorder and somatic symptom disorder. Symptoms can range from mild-to-moderate expressions of worry to clinical diagnoses. Previous research has shown pregnancy-specific anxiety to be an autonomous anxiety disorder. When a woman conceives, immediate somatic changes are experienced, and although all pregnancies are different, these changes could cause either illness anxiety disorder or somatic symptom disorder. This review explores the possibility of pregnancy-specific health anxiety in greater detail.

Anxiety is an innate human response to situations that cause fear, worry or concern. It is experienced cognitively, emotionally and somatically. Certain levels of anxiety are expected and typical when individuals experience major changes of circumstances in their personal or professional lives, and mild-to-moderate levels of anxiety can even be advantageous when channelled correctly, encouraging an individual to perform at their optimum level (Spielberger et al, 2017).

However, higher levels of anxiety can be an extreme response to perceived threats and can lead to faults in the thought process, which can in turn potentially become the reason for heightened levels of anxiety that disrupt and hinder everyday life. When this response to a perceived threat leads to the overestimation of the likelihood of negative occurrences, thereby interrupting day-to-day life and typical functioning, this is characterised as an anxiety disorder (Clark and Beck, 2011; Klein, 2018). Overall, anxiety affects a person's mental and physical health and can be experienced across a spectrum, spanning from mild to severe.

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