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How Anxiety May Induce Swelling

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10th, 2020

How Anxiety May Induce Swelling

Anxiety has been linked to a number of physical conditions. From skin blotches to chest pains to twitching toes, there are a host of different anxiety symptoms that people experience as a result of stress, adrenaline, breathing, and more.

One of the issues that has been linked to anxiety is swelling. Swelling refers to any type of inflammation that causes some body part to grow in size. Many people with anxiety complain of swelling, but the actual issue is not necessarily what you may think.

Do You Have Health Anxiety?

Many people who complain of swelling also have panic attacks or health anxiety, although some may have other anxiety disorders.

The stress from anxiety causes many different problems within the body, and it wouldn't be a surprise for it to cause swelling. But swelling is actually not that common from anxiety. What is common is perceived swelling.

The Issue is Hypersensitivity

Anxiety can cause other mental health symptoms that may cause more anxiety, and one of the most famous in those with health anxiety is known as "hypersensitivity."

Hypersensitivity is when the brain becomes overly sensitive to everything in your body, to the point where even the slightest change or perceived change feels amplified. For example, a person with hypersensitivity knows when their heartbeat beats just the tiniest bit harder - so little that most people won't even notice - and not only do they feel that increase in heartbeat, it also feels more pronounced.

Hypersensitivity doesn't just cause you to be sensitive to changes in your body either. Hypersensitivity can also cause normal things in your body to feel bigger or larger. This is because the condition draws your entire brain's attention to the way that part of your body feels, and that makes what is normally an automatic process a manual process.

A great example is with breathing. Normally you breathe without thinking about it, but if someone told you to think about your breathing, suddenly this automatic process is a manual process - you need to breathe on purpose in order to keep breathing. Of course, if you "forget" it will still be automatic - hypersensitivity isn't dangerous, but it does change the way your body operates.

The Difference Between Swelling and Perceived Swelling

Which brings us back to the difference between swelling and perceived swelling. When people have severe anxiety and hypersensitivity, they start to "feel" certain parts of their body more, to the point where they feel them larger. While not a comprehensive list, the most common complaints of swelling include:

  • Swollen tongue
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Swollen face
  • Swollen fingers
  • Swollen lips

Yet when brought to a doctor, the doctors find no swelling at all, because the swelling isn't necessarily there. It simply feels like these parts of your body have gotten larger because you're thinking too much about them. In fact, not only do they feel larger - they may actually look larger to you as well.

One thing you need to remember though is that you're never really looking at these areas of your body normally. You have nothing to compare them to. And while they may feel different, that's because your body is sensitive to those feelings more. You may also may be attributing other sensations, like a tingling feeling, to the swelling when those may also be caused by anxiety.

So while they may feel larger, awkward, and as though they're not moving properly, that's because of hypersensitivity and the way your brain is processing its size because of your anxiety. Very, very rarely are these areas actually swelling.

Can Anxiety Cause Actual Swelling?

Now, it is potentially possible for anxiety to create swelling. Stress causes a host of different issues. Some studies have shown that anxiety can cause a bit of a swollen liver, for example, and it's possible that they may contribute to mild swelling in joints or other areas of the body. Stress affects everyone differently.

Indeed, stress also weakens your immune system slightly which may make it more likely for you to get mild infections. This would swell your lymph nodes. But while anxiety was a contributing factor, it is really the infection which is causing the real problems.

How to Stop Perceived Anxiety Swelling

Since rarely are these areas of your body actually swelling, there's nothing really to stop. Ideally, you simply need to take your mind off of the swelling and the idea that you have a terrible disease.

If you truly believe some part of your body is swelling, see a doctor. Swelling most certainly is possible due to other conditions, and if the swelling is accompanied by feelings of illness or there is reason to believe that you may be at risk for something that causes swelling, only a doctor can make sure that you're okay.

But the idea of perceived swelling from anxiety is a very real one, and something that you absolutely need to remember when you're trying to control your anxiety symptoms. The best thing you can do is try your best to distract yourself from worrying about swelling and take steps to control your anxiety.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

Ask Doctor a Question

Question:

Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient

Answer:

You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

Ask Doctor a Question

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