Autobiographical Memory and Episodic Future Thinking in Severe Health Anxiety: A Comparison with Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder

  • Tine B. GehrtEmail author
  • Lisbeth Frostholm
  • Marie-Louise Obermann
  • Dorthe Berntsen
Original Article


Severe health anxiety is characterized by intrusive worries about harboring a serious illness. In the present study, 32 patients with severe health anxiety, 32 control participants and a clinical control group of 33 patients with obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) reported unprompted and anxiety-related autobiographical memories and episodic future thoughts. Compared to control participants, the patient groups displayed similar patterns in the characteristics of the reported events and regarding the maladaptive cognitive and behavioral strategies used, when the events came to mind. Patients with severe health anxiety reported more events related to their own illness or death than either of the other groups, and exploratory analyses suggested that they were more inclined than OCD patients to check their own bodies when anxiety-related events came to mind. Autobiographical memories and episodic future thoughts have not previously been examined in patients with severe health anxiety, but could play an important role in this disorder.


Autobiographical memory Episodic future thoughts Hypochondriasis Severe health anxiety Obsessive–compulsive disorder 



The authors thank the Danish National Research Foundation [DNRF89] and the Illum Foundation for funding. They also thank Ditte Hoffmann, Charlotte Ulrikka Rask, Tina B. W. Carstensen, Heidi Berg Nielsen, Astrid Høegh Tuborgh, Heidi Frølund Petersen, Fruszina Eva Toth and the OCD Association in Denmark for assisting in recruiting patients, Josephine Oliva Gammelgaard for coding of event content, and Cecilie Kousholt and Niels Peter Nielsen for technical and practical assistance.


This research was supported in part by the Danish National Research Foundation (DNRF) [Grant Number DNRF89] and the Illum Foundation. The DNRF and the Illum Foundation [Grant Number 03061023] had no role in the study design, collection, analysis or interpretation of the data, writing the manuscript, or the decision to submit the paper for publication.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflicts of interest

Tine B. Gehrt, Lisbeth Frostholm, Marie-Louise Obermann and Dorthe Berntsen declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in this study were in accordance with the ethical standards of the American Psychological Association and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. The study was approved by the local ethics review board.

Animal Rights

No animal studies were carried out by the authors for this article.

Supplementary material

10608_2019_10058_MOESM1_ESM.docx (45 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 45 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center on Autobiographical Memory Research, Aarhus UniversityAarhusDenmark
  2. 2.Research Clinic for Functional Disorders, Aarhus University HospitalAarhusDenmark
  3. 3.Clinic for OCD and Anxiety Disorders, Aarhus University HospitalAarhusDenmark

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