Recent Advances in the Understanding and Treatment of Health Anxiety
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Purpose of Review
To examine the diagnosis of health anxiety, its prevalence in different settings, public health significance, treatment, and outcome.
Health anxiety is similar to hypochondriasis but is characterized by fear of, rather than conviction of, illness. Lifetime prevalence rates are 6% in the population and as high as 20% in hospital out-patients, leading to greater costs to health services through unnecessary medical contacts. Its prevalence may be increasing because of excessive internet browsing (cyberchondria). Drug treatment with antidepressants has some efficacy but is not well-liked, but psychological treatments, including cognitive behavior therapy, stress management, mindfulness training, and acceptance and commitment therapy, given either individually, in groups, or over the Internet, have all proved efficacious in both the short and longer term. Untreated health anxiety leads to premature mortality.
Health anxiety has become an increasing clinical and public health issue at a time when people are being formally asked to take more responsibility in monitoring their own health. More attention by health services is needed.
KeywordsIllness anxiety Health anxiety Cyberchondria Psychological treatments
Much of the research work described in this paper was funded by the National Coordinating Centre for Health Technology Assessment (NCCHTA) of the UK. Figure 1 is reproduced by permission of the Health Technology Assessment Program.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
Peter Tyrer declares no potential conflicts of interest.
Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent
This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.
Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance
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