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Health Anxiety Can Be Reduced With Cognitive Behavior Therapy

Update Date: Oct 19, 2013 02:27 PM EDT

Cognitive behavior therapy may be more effective than basic care in cases of procedures for those who suffer from health anxiety, according to a new study.

"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 leader Professor Peter Tyrer from Imperial College, London said in a news release. 

"People with hypochondria are very worried about getting a disease or are certain they have a disease, even after medical tests show they do not," according to WebMD.

CBT is a type of counseling that focuses on changing thinking and behavior habits when handling an episode.

According to researchers CBT is a treatment used for other anxiety disorders but there is currently an insufficient amount of therapists than can perform this counseling.

In an attempt to change the shortage of this counseling and to study the effectiveness of treatment on patients, researchers performed a trial test.
Researchers had 444 people, aged 16, who were being treated in hospitals for health anxiety, receive sessions of CBT or standard care. 219 patients received CBT and 225 were treated with basic care.

"Treatment was delivered at outpatient clinics by non-CBT experts who had been trained in just two workshops and then supervised by more experienced CBT therapists," according to the study. "The researchers compared the difference in health anxiety, generalised anxiety, depression, social function, quality of life, and costs between the groups over 2 years."

Researchers found that after one year of treatment those who were given CBT showed twice as much improvement in normal levels of health anxiety than those who were treated with standard care (13.9% vs 7.3%). 

Researchers concluded that CBT treatment does not have to be limited in the scope of practice of other health professionals and it is proven to help high levels of generalized anxiety and depression, which are linked to health anxiety.  

"Until now, we had no evidence that health anxiety in medically settings could be successfully treated," said Tyrer. "Our results indicate that CBT-HA is relatively cheap, can be delivered by general nurses with minimal training, and could be easily rolled out in hospital settings." 

The findings are published in the journal The Lancet.

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