Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD

Fear of pulmonary embolism

By Sara Anderson, LPC

Sep 14, 20225 minute read

Reviewed byTaylor Newendorp

What is OCD fear of pulmonary embolism ?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder—or OCD—typically includes obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are defined as intrusive or unwanted thoughts, images or urges, while compulsions are defined as repetitive behaviors or mental acts that individuals do in response to an obsession, in an attempt to reduce anxiety or avert a feared outcome. 

One might experience obsessions related to a pulmonary embolism if they fear developing a pulmonary embolism, despite having little or no evidence to support the fear (i.e. diagnosis of pulmonary embolism, diagnostic testing that support evidence of a pulmonary embolism, a health professional verbalizing suspicion of a pulmonary embolism, evidence to support presence of blood clots in the body etc). 

Someone who has such obsessional fear of pulmonary embolism might find that they have the urge to go to the doctor more than necessary to confirm they are not at risk for a pulmonary embolism. Other times the opposite is true: they find themselves avoiding all doctor’s appointments out of fear of receiving this possible diagnosis. An individual with this theme of OCD might find themselves Googling or researching possible symptoms to seek reassurance. They might also ask family members, friends, coworkers, etc., for reassurance that they are not going to develop a pulmonary embolism. 

Other mental processes could be present as a result of this fear, too, including rumination. Rumination occurs when someone engages in a repetitive, negative thought process that seems to cycle at length without a conclusion. Individuals who struggle with rumination report significant distress as a result of this thought process and find it difficult to engage in other activities or otherwise stop the cycle of thoughts. Lastly, the individual might check themselves physically to see if they are experiencing signs of a Pulmonary Embolism or avoid certain activities that mimic these symptoms (i.e. avoiding exercise due to the chance of feeling of being short of breath as a result of physical activity). 

Pulmonary Embolism OCD – Common Obsessions

  • Will I develop a Pulmonary Embolism?
  • Will I develop a blood clot that will lead to a Pulmonary Embolism?
  • Images of themselves experiencing symptoms of a Pulmonary Embolism
  • Images of themselves dying as a result of a Pulmonary Embolism
  • If I do this unhealthy behavior, will I get a Pulmonary Embolism?

Triggers common for people with OCD fear of pulmonary embolism include:

Individuals struggling with fear of pulmonary embolism might find many situations triggering, including discussions about Pulmonary Embolisms, discussions involving pulmonary embolism symptoms, going to the doctor’s office, reading articles on Pulmonary Embolism, watching videos in relation to Pulmonary Embolism, working out or engaging in other strenuous activities (due to the sensation of shortness of breath and/or heart beating fast), any situation that might result in the individual becoming lightheaded (i.e. spinning, roller coasters, theme park rides, etc.), or situations where the individual is sick and has a dry cough. For many individuals struggling with this theme of OCD, as well as other Health-related OCD subcategories, many physical symptoms and sensations could be potential triggers, as well. 

How can I tell if it’s pulmonary embolism fears as part of OCD, and not anxiety?

Individuals struggling with pulmonary embolism fears in OCD might find themselves going to the doctor more often than necessary in an effort to receive reassurance that they are not at risk of developing a Pulmonary Embolism. Someone who struggles with these concerns might also misinterpret physical sensations as potential symptoms of a pulmonary embolism. An example of this might include working out and experiencing shortness of breath and a fast heart rate. These symptoms are probably better explained by exercise, but the sensations trigger fears about Pulmonary Embolism. As a result, they might resort to Googling symptoms, seeking medical care, or ruminating about the possibility of a Pulmonary Embolism, trying anything to find absolute certainty. 

While individuals with obsessions of a pulmonary embolism in OCD might visit the doctor frequently, another compulsion might be to actively avoid the doctor to eliminate the possibility of a diagnosis of Pulmonary Embolism, or learning that they are at risk for one. Avoidance can be apparent in other ways as well, such as avoiding stories, news articles, videos and discussions related to health concerns. Some individuals might even avoid people they know who are diagnosed with something that places them at risk of a Pulmonary Embolism. 

Common Compulsions

  • Seeking reassurance from friends and family
  • Seeking reassurance from medical  professionals
  • Seeking reassurance through Googling/researching symptoms
  • Avoiding conversations, or media that deal with Pulmonary Embolisms
  • Avoiding medical care out of fear of receiving a diagnosis
  • Rumination about the possibility of having a Pulmonary Embolism in the future
  • Avoiding activities that might induce physical sensations similar to symptoms of a Pulmonary Embolism

How to treat fear of pulmonary embolism

Pulmonary embolism fears in Health OCD can be debilitating, but all forms of OCD are highly treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, you can gain more control over your life and live with less distress.

Our brain sometimes misinterprets certain triggers as threats and as a result, we engage in compulsions to reduce the anxiety we experience. These compulsions then reinforce the mistaken idea that these triggers are dangerous. ERP works by providing opportunities to engage with the same triggers without utilizing compulsions, and simply accepting uncertainty and sitting with anxiety instead. Over time, this teaches our brain that the triggers are not as dangerous as we thought they might be. 

This approach proceeds incrementally, where triggers that lead to less anxiety are utilized first, and then we work our way up to triggers that induce the most anxiety. This way, not only are you facing your fears and developing new knowledge and comfort with perceived threats, but you are also building confidence and trust in yourself along the way. 

If you’re struggling with OCD, you can schedule a free 15-minute call today with the NOCD care team to learn how a licensed therapist can help. At NOCD, all therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training. ERP is most effective when the therapist conducting the treatment has experience with OCD and training in ERP.

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