Health anxiety is an important new diagnosis that is increasing in frequency because of changing attitudes towards health, particularly excessive use of health information on the internet (cyberchondria). People with abnormal health anxiety become over-diligent monitors of their health, misinterpret most somatic sensations as evidence of disease, consult medical professionals unnecessarily and frequently, and are often over-investigated. Relatively few patients with health anxiety present to psychiatrists; most are seen in primary and secondary medical care. This paper reviews the diagnosis and presenting features of health anxiety, its identification in practice and its treatment. A range of simple psychological treatments have been shown to have long-lasting benefit for the disorder but are greatly under-used.
DECLARATION OF INTEREST
To be able to identify abnormal health anxiety with the aid of probe questions
To respond to people whom you have identified with excessive health anxiety in a way that facilitates its treatment
To learn a few simple techniques derived from cognitive–behavioural therapy that can lead to long-term benefit