Hypochondriasis is prevalent in primary care, but the diagnosis is hampered by its stigmatizing label and lack of valid diagnostic criteria. Recently, new empirically established criteria for Health anxiety were introduced. Little is known about Health anxiety's impact on longitudinal outcome, and this study aimed to examine impact on self-rated health and health care costs.
1785 consecutive primary care patients aged 18-65 consulting their family physicians (FPs) for a new illness were followed-up for two years. A stratified subsample of 701 patients was assessed by the Schedules for Clinical Assessment in Neuropsychiatry interview. Patients with mild (N = 21) and severe Health anxiety (N = 81) and Hypochondriasis according to the DSM-IV (N = 59) were compared with a comparison group of patients who had a well-defined medical condition according to their FPs and a low score on the screening questionnaire (N = 968). Self-rated health was measured by questionnaire at index and at three, 12, and 24 months, and health care use was extracted from patient registers. Compared with the 968 patients with well-defined medical conditions, the 81 severe Health anxiety patients and the 59 DSM-IV Hypochondriasis patients continued during follow-up to manifest significantly more Health anxiety (Whiteley-7 scale). They also continued to have significantly worse self-rated functioning related to physical and mental health (component scores of the SF-36). The severe Health anxiety patients used about 41-78% more health care per year in total, both during the 3 years preceding inclusion and during follow-up, whereas the DSM-IV Hypochondriasis patients did not have statistically significantly higher total use. A poor outcome of Health anxiety was not explained by comorbid depression, anxiety disorder or well-defined medical condition. Patients with mild Health anxiety did not have a worse outcome on physical health and incurred significantly less health care costs than the group of patients with a well-defined medical condition.
Severe Health anxiety was found to be a disturbing and persistent condition. It is costly for the health care system and must be taken seriously, i.e. diagnosed and treated. This study supports the validity of recently introduced new criteria for Health anxiety.
Cites: Am J Psychiatry. 1993 Mar;150(3):484-88434667