Health anxiety, medically known as hypochondria, can be debilitating. The obsessive and neurotic worrying about health usually causes distress and affects the ability to function properly.
Furthermore, health anxiety can fuel symptoms, like headaches and chest pains, making the person assume they are suffering from a serious problem. A clinician’s reassurance that they are healthy often goes in vain.
But researchers at the Imperial College London have found that administering cognitive behavioral therapy can prove beneficial in calming health anxiety.
“Health anxiety or hypochondria is costly for health-care providers, and an effective treatment could potentially save money by reducing the need for unnecessary tests and emergency hospital admissions,” study’s lead researcher, Professor Peter Tyrer, from the Imperial College London, marked.
For the purpose of the study, the researchers looked at 444 patients enrolled in the CBT for Health Anxiety in Medical Patients (CHAMP) trial.
Aged between 16 and 75 years, the participants were being treated for abnormal health anxiety.
The participants were randomly assigned to receive either 5-10 sessions of modified cognitive behavioral treatment for health anxiety or standard care that consisted of reassurance and support in secondary and primary care.
CBT sessions were conducted at outpatient clinics. Non-CBT experts who had undergone two workshop training sessions imparted the therapy. The non-CBT experts were supervised by more experienced therapists at 2-4 week intervals.
Over a 2-year period the researchers compared the levels of health anxiety, general anxiety, depression, social function, quality of life and the health costs for the two groups.
CBT sessions proved effective in calming health anxiety, researchers found.
While 13.9 percent of patients who received CBT treatment demonstrated normal levels of health anxiety at one year of follow-up, the figures stood at 7.3 percent for patients who received standard care.
General anxiety, depression and social functioning also improved for such patients, researchers highlighted.
“Until now, we had no evidence that health anxiety in medical settings could be successfully treated,” Tyrer stated.
“Our results indicate that CBT for health anxiety is relatively cheap, can be delivered by general nurses with minimal training, and could be easily rolled out in hospital settings.”
The findings of the study are reported in the current issue of the journal The Lancet.