Psychotherapy Helps Reduce Symptoms of Hypochondria, Study Says
Psychotherapy can help patients overcome hypochondria, a condition that involves "persistent, unfounded fears about having a serous disease," according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the AP/Long Island Newsday reports (Tanner, AP/Long Island Newsday, 3/24). In the study, Dr. Arthur Barsky of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School and colleagues divided 187 patients with hypochondria into two groups. One group attended six 90-minute therapy sessions over six weeks and the other received routine medical care (Reuters/Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/24). Among those who completed the six sessions of therapy, almost 57% showed improvements in quality of life and symptoms after 12 months, while 32% of the comparison group showed the same. According to the AP/Newsday, during the psychotherapy sessions, therapists "encouraged patients to stop habits that worsened their symptoms" and taught patients to understand their condition better and learn "distraction techniques." However, 25 of the 102 participants receiving therapy quit before they completed all six sessions, and about 14% of the participants never went to any sessions. According to Barsky, participants quit because this form of treatment doesn't "fit with their belief system" that the problems they have are physical. Barsky added, "Most hypochondriac people never will go to a psychiatrist." According to the AP/Newsday, hypochondria is "notoriously hard to treat" in part because patients usually "doctor shop" to "get tests or a diagnosis they can accept." Dr. Joshua Straus, medical director for consultation therapy at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, said, "It's actually a landmark study. This is an understudied and underappreciated problem" (AP/Long Island Newsday, 3/24). An abstract of the study appears online. NPR's "Morning Edition" Wednesday reported on the study. The segment includes comments from Barsky; Carla Cantor, author of "Phantom Illness"; and Brian Fallon, a research psychiatrist at Columbia University (Trudeau, "Morning Edition," NPR, 3/24). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.