Hypochondriasis and health anxiety in the German population


Correspondence should be addressed to Dr Gaby Bleichhardt, Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Staudinger Weg 9, 55099 Mainz, Germany (e-mail: bleichha@uni-mainz.de).


Epidemiologic studies on hypochondriasis are very rare and have not been included in large North American community surveys until now. In order to gain information on the prevalence as well as the socio-demographic characteristics of hypochondriasis, the following community study was carried out. Analyses are based on an assessment of 1575 subjects selected by socio-demographic representation criteria for the German community. All subjects completed the Illness Attitude Scales (IAS) and responded to several additional questions on sociodemographics and diagnostic criteria pertaining to Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM-IV) hypochondriasis. The IAS is internationally one of the best-established self-rating questionnaires for the assessment of hypochondriasis and health anxiety. Results reveal a 0.4% point prevalence rate of DSM-IV hypochondriasis. In contrast to that, 6% of the German population suffers from severe health anxiety. There are small positive effects for female gender, higher age and lower school education on health anxiety. Subjects with high health anxiety report a much lower health-related quality of life and a higher risk for a type of psychotherapeutic or psychiatric treatment. These results support the development of less restrictive criteria for hypochondriasis and place emphasis on the clinical and socio-economic relevance of health anxiety.