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can't shake the fear there's something wrong!

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I'm a 22year old female, physically fit and healthy. Over the past year I have been worrying increasingly about my health (starting after I had a bad virus, possibly viral meningitis)since then I have been obsessed with my health, constantly convincing myself that I have some deadly disease. I have been convinced that I have lymphoma, leukemia, ovarian cancer, hiv, bowel cancer, MS, the list goes on.

Recently I've had frequent headaches, a constant pressure-like feeling in my head, lightheadedness, nausea, poor sleeping, nervous stomach, frequent toilet trips and tension in my neck and shoulders. I also feel incredibly worried and nervous all the time for no apparent reason, and I feel like crying all the time, i'm constantly holding back tears.
I've been to my GP who ran every blood test and did an EKG, everything came back good. He prescribed me Propronalol. I can't shake the fear that there's something wrong with my brain. Can this really be caused by anxiety? please help!

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replied March 24th, 2011
Anxiety and Stress Answer A21219

Sorry to hear about your viral infection. If it was indeed Viral Meningitis, there are always reasons to worry. And it is only natural to be anxious about more health problems in future. However, what you seem to have is something more than a normal anxiety. It is probably a fear now. And fear can be unhealthy.

If you reflect over the past one year, there might not have been medical reasons for you to believe that you have a serious illness such as the list you have mentioned. You might have a few symptoms here and there, but the presence of fear has made you imagine the worst possible outcome. And apart from that, this fear can also effect a lot of anxiety symptoms such as nausea, nervous stomach, frequent toilet trips, etc.

It seems appropriate, then, to find out what this fear is all about. As I mentioned above, being anxious about health issues for a while could be normal. We also call it 'being cautious'. However, when this anxiety increases in severity and duration, it can interfere in your day to day living. That's the point where it becomes unhealthy. Fear can be defined as a feeling (severe anxiety) you experience towards something other people may not be so afraid of. Some other person in your situation could feel differently, may be much less worried, especially after all the tests have been normal.

Now it is obvious that this fear has started after your viral illness. I encourage you to try and explore what thoughts you have associated with 'having an illness'. Here, I would like to mention that the emotions and feelings we experience are not a direct result of 'what happens to us or what might happen to us'. But it is due to "what we think about what happens/might happen to us". This essentially means you are probably thinking a lot about 'what if you have a serious illness'. And this thinking is mostly in the form of "inferences". After all, you don't feel afraid of the disease per se, but what that disease might do to your mind and body.

Propranolol might help you with the physical anxiety symptoms. It is usually prescribed for performance anxiety. There are a few other good anxiolytics you might consider for a long term use. Some of them are Sertraline, Paroxetine, Fluoxetine, etc. These anre anti-depressants, but have proven efficacy against anxiety.

Please also consider psychotherapy along with the medicines. Psychotherapy, especially Cognitive Therapy will help you explore the thoughts and beliefs underlying your anxiety symptoms (similar to what we discussed above). Psychotherapy is usually the first line of treatment for health anxiety.

Hope this helps. Take care.

Abhijeet Deshmukh, MD

(This post is for the purpose of providing medical information and is not a substitute for a face-to-face consultation with a doctor. This post is not intended to give or rule out a diagnosis, create a doctor-patient relationship or replace an existing one. I am not able to diagnose medical conditions online. Please consult with your doctor or a qualified healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment options)

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