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What is hypochondriasis

For a diagnosis of hypochondriasis to be made, DSM-IV-TR states that the following symptoms should be present for at least six months:

preoccupation with fears of having, or believing one has, a serious disease based upon misinterpretation of bodily symptoms

the preoccupation persists despite appropriate medical evaluation and reassurance

the fears are not of delusional intensity and not restricted to concern about appearance

the preoccupation causes clinically signifi cant distress or impairment.

People with hypochondriasis exaggerate the dangerousness of bodily signs and symptoms, and believe they are more likely to have or to develop an illness than is justifi ed on the basis of any evidence. They are highly sensitive to information that suggests the possibility of them having a disease, and frequently seek confi rmation of their worries from a variety of sources. By contrast, they are highly resistant to reassurance: appropriate information, education and explanation typically fail to reduce any fears of disease (Rassin et al. 2008).

Their fear seems limited to threats to health and is not found in other areas of life. Barsky et al. (2001), for example, found that hypochondriacal patients considered themselves at more risk of developing various diseases than a comparison group of patients from a primary care setting, but the two groups did not differ in their perceived risk of being involved in an accident or the subject of crime.

Prevalence of hypochondriasis

Rates of the disorder in the general population are relatively low. In a meta-analysis of data available at the time, Creed and Barsky (2004) suggested prevalence levels of between 0.03 and 2.8 per cent among the general population. Fink et al. (2004) estimated the prevalence of hypochondriasis among people admitted into general medical wards to be 3.5 per cent, with markedly different rates between men and women (1.5 and 6.0 per cent respectively).

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