Health anxiety — or hypochondria — can cost you thousands.
Author’s Note: Nobody knows our bodies better than us and we often have to be our own advocates when it comes to our health. Sometimes doctors are wrong and you do need medical tests! This article is exclusively for those of us with health anxiety, to be used as another tool in overcoming this very real mental illness.
In the middle of my lengthy bout with health anxiety, there were a couple of weeks when I knew I had Lyme disease.
It was 2014 and Kathleen Hanna’s documentary “The Punk Singer” was on Netflix. I sandwiched it between “65 RedRoses” and “How to Die in Oregon” when I couldn’t sleep due to a relentless pulsing in my abdomen.
I watched it partly because I’m a massive Bikini Kill and Hanna fan and partly because I was subconsciously determined to make my symptoms worse.
The “Punk Singer” covers Hanna’s experience with Lyme disease — a disease I knew nothing about until I watched.
Lyme is a very real and potentially chronic condition, affects a lot of people, and not always with the characteristic bullseye rash mentioned on copious visits to Dr. Google. Suddenly, I was running through every time I’d removed ticks from my dog wondering, “Was the insect bite I got ages ago actually a tick bite?”
After more sleeplessness, I booked in to see my GP.
This was the third time I’d seen a GP that month and it was literally the first week.
He stared at me blankly, telling me I couldn’t have Lyme disease because it wasn’t in the UK at that time. Nor was I presenting with a rash.
But — I thought to myself — the stories I’ve read say otherwise.
My GP dismissed me and I went home to do more research into Lyme: Are there any cases in the north of England? Yes — and experts believe there are more cases of Lyme disease in the UK than first thought. Do they always present with the bullseye rash so you can get antibiotics in time? Nope.
Aha! I’d suddenly found what explained 99 percent of the symptoms I’d had that summer. This was definitely it and I would print out the research to prove it.
So I booked another appointment and took my printouts to prove to the medical professional that he was wrong. I knew my body and, tick or no, I had Lyme disease and I wanted the test that would tell me so.
I handed him my sheets and, yet again, he told me I didn’t have the symptoms and, therefore, couldn’t get the tests on the National Health Service (NHS). Well then, I thought, maybe I’ll have to go private.
As a UK resident, I’m lucky to have the NHS.
When I see how much it costs for you guys over the pond to call an ambulance, I check my privilege at the door. Still, in 2017, some report that health anxiety was costing the NHS £56 million, or around $73 million USD.
That’s a lot.
Although it’s hard to get a blood test for Lyme disease through the NHS, there are some private clinics that do it.
These days — presumably as a result of the growing cases — you can get a test for £50. In 2014, it was £250 minimum. I didn’t have the money for it, but figured out if I was to forego having any kind of fun for the foreseeable future, I could afford it.
Sounds fair, extremely healthy, and in no way feeding into anxious thought cycles, right?
Thankfully, my bank account would say, my health anxiety moved on before I went through with ordering a test.
One of the most important things I read while I had health anxiety came from another person who had it.
On the No More Panic forum, an American user mentioned how much it was going to cost them to get another colonoscopy. It made me realize that one thing we don’t grasp, having such accessible healthcare in the UK, is how much things cost.
The NHS isn’t perfect, but I don’t even want to imagine where we’d be without it.
Our tax goes toward its funding and, therefore, we get free healthcare. Yet, there’s no way that the operation of machines, medical supplies, and wages for an already vastly underpaid nursing force actually costs nothing.
Each of my appointments, A&E visits, blood tests, and ultrasounds were costing our incredibly important health service thousands of pounds.
How much, exactly?
Well, let’s break it down.
Using tools like the GoCompare Bill of Health and NHS reference costs, I decided to work out how much some of my health anxiety-related instances cost the NHS. As with the Lyme fiasco, I might have saved myself from seeking private tests, but nothing comes without a price.
According to the tool, each GP appointment costs the NHS £45. In my pursuit to be diagnosed with Lyme disease alone, I had four appointments, adding up to £180.
Another of my triggers was bowel cancer, thanks in part to a sensationalist article I read in the Daily Mail.
I’ve always had what my northern family call a “gippy tummy.” We have IBS in the family and I’m lucky enough to not have it to the degree of some of my family members. In addition to that, anxiety causes digestive issues.
Basically, I had no hope.
Content warning: poo talk
In retrospect, now that I’m able to look back logically, I can explain every single one of my digestive issues.
I was constipated because anxiety was making it impossible to eat, therefore when I did go to the loo, thanks to straining, I saw bright red blood. I also saw bright red blood because I was checking inside the toilet every time I went.
Compulsive checking? Got it.
To get rid of constipation, my doctor prescribed me a powder called Movicol. Needless to say, the Movicol had the opposite effect on my system and one of its side effects is a feeling of crawling inside your intestines.
Oh no, another symptom to worry about!
Now, I’d had digestive issues in the past. Misdiagnosed pancreatitis led to sepsis, a near-death experience, and a bed in the ICU. Unfortunately, my near-death experience didn’t end up like it does in The OA (RIP), but it’s one of my party stories nonetheless.
All of this meant the scans I had in this instance were advised by the GP, but considering I was at the point where I didn’t believe any medical professional, that hardly matters.
Taking all of this into account, here’s roughly how much my health anxiety-driven bowel cancer fear cost the NHS:
- Appointments: 5 = £225
- Visits to the A&E (emergency room): 1 = £80.55
- Scans: 2 (Abdominal ultrasound) = £380*
*median cost worked out by assessing private costs
Total (sans medication): £685.10
That’s just one of the avenues health anxiety took me down over the course of 5 months.
And, unlike U.S. residents, we don’t have to pay for it out of pocket.
Looking into American healthcare costs from the comfortable position of having free healthcare is bizarre. TV shows like ER and Grey’s Anatomy never went into how much it costs to stay alive across the pond.
According to a
With the rise of the internet, that’s certainly gone up. After all, approximately
For those without health anxiety, this is priceless. Considering the cost of seeing a physician in the United States depends on your state and whether you have healthcare, searching the net for a quick answer to whatever’s plaguing you can save a lot of money.
However, if you do have health anxiety, even searching the internet can be the key to unlocking the desire to pursue an onslaught of medical testing.
A lot of people with health anxiety are also more than willing to pay, often choosing expensive treatments over simpler, over-the-counter ones.
Like, say, scans, vitamins, and acupuncture over anti-inflammatory medication.
A great site I found while researching healthcare costs on the other side of the Atlantic was The True Cost of Healthcare. This site is the culmination of research into healthcare prices by David Belk, who realized just how hard it was to find out how much all of it actually costs.
From the inside, he’s been diving into unraveling the mystery of healthcare costs for more than a decade.
Using his research, I’m going to look at how much my bowel cancer health anxiety would have cost me in the United States. As above, this really all depends on where I’d be hypothetically living.
But, more often than not, you need to suspend reality to get to the truth.
Using Dr. Belk’s research, here are the median prices I’d have paid for getting to the bottom of my somatic symptoms.
- Appointments: 5 = $515
- Visits to the ER: 1 = $116
- Scans: 2 (abdominal ultrasound) = $368
Total (sans medication): $999
Something else interesting that Dr. Belk’s research uncovers is that nobody really knows the true costs, including the doctors.
As far as health anxiety goes, this is a great fact to add to your arsenal.
I mean, if a doctor bills his patients per visit, why would they say no further action is needed? An appointment and a follow up makes the doctor almost twice what they’d make for just the appointment.
It’s a drain on our energy levels, bank accounts, and healthcare systems. Health anxiety is taxing and, unless we set out to combat it ourselves, it could end up costing us — and, for those of us in the UK, our NHS — thousands.
The problem is, when the costs are reported in the media in the UK, it rightfully focuses on the cost to the system.
But, it’s not uncommon for those of us with health anxiety to do like I almost did and turn to private healthcare providers for scans and tests.
Put it this way: How many times have you contemplated the fact you might need a colonoscopy? Hardly the most fun experience in the world.
CostHelper is a really interesting site to look at for medical costs. It lets regular people like you or me leave their own personal experiences in the comments and then reports the median cost. While the site is U.S.-based and even that varies from state to state, I still consider it super helpful to browse.
So, let’s look at the cost of my tummy troubles using this data assuming I have no health insurance:
- Appointments: 5 = $750
- Visits to the ER: 1 = $1,265
- Scans: 2 (abdominal ultrasound) = $850
Total (sans medication): $2,865
As a writer without health insurance, I’d be screwed.
If you’re anything like me (admittedly terrible with math), seeing the numbers in front of you might help you when it comes to your health anxiety.
That’s why we’re here, right?
Below is a table of average health costs I’ve collected using the sources above covering some of the more common worries those of us with health anxiety have. Hopefully it’ll function as another tool to combat HA: what I used to call The Dragon.
|SERVICE||USA (no insurance)|
When you’re in the middle of health anxiety, it’s hard to be logical.
I grew up with anxiety over money, too. I couldn’t spend more than £10 without feeling guilty. Yet, when I had health anxiety, I was willing to drop 20 times that on a test that’s known to produce false negatives.
Who knows how many times I’d have wanted to take it until my mind was satisfied?
And then? I’d just have moved on to the next thing. ‘Tis but the way of the hypochondriac.
On top of logic, it’s also hard to break out of the cycle. Many people with chronic pain need to see a lot of doctors before they finally get their diagnosis. That’s why it’s hard to tell whether you have health anxiety or not.
What you should remember is that people with health anxiety can have chronic conditions and get sick, too. If you’re here, you’re at least a little bit sure of what’s going on and if so, remember that there are ways to deal with it.
None of us are without hope.
Em Burfitt is a music journalist whose work has been featured in The Line of Best Fit, DIVA Magazine, and She Shreds. As well as being a cofounder of queerpack.co, she’s also incredibly passionate about making mental health conversations mainstream.