Background: Health anxiety is an under-recognised but frequent cause of distress that is potentially treatable, but there are few studies in secondary care. Objective: To determine the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of a modified form of cognitive-behaviour therapy (CBT) for health anxiety (CBT-HA) compared with standard care in medical outpatients. Design: Randomised controlled trial. Setting: Five general hospitals in London, Middlesex and Nottinghamshire. Participants: A total of 444 patients aged 16-75 years seen in cardiology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, neurology and respiratory medicine clinics who scored ≥ 20 points on the Health Anxiety Inventory (HAI) and satisfied diagnostic requirements for hypochondriasis. Those with current psychiatric disorders were excluded, but those with concurrent medical illnesses were not. Interventions: Cognitive-behaviour therapy for health anxiety-between 4 and 10 1-hour sessions of CBT-HA from a health professional or psychologist trained in the treatment. Standard care was normal practice in primary and secondary care. Main outcome measures: Primary-researchers masked to allocation assessed patients at baseline, 3, 6, 12, 24 months and 5 years. The primary outcome was change in the HAI score between baseline and 12 months. Main secondary outcomes-costs of care in the two groups after 24 and 60 months, change in health anxiety (HAI), generalised anxiety and depression [Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS)] scores, social functioning using the Social Functioning Questionnaire and quality of life using the EuroQol-5 Dimensions (EQ-5D), at 6, 12, 24 and 60 months, and deaths over 5 years. Results: Of the 28,991 patients screened over 21 months, 5769 had HAI scores of ≥ 20 points. Improvement in HAI scores at 3 months was significantly greater in the CBT-HA group (mean number of sessions = 6) than in the standard care, and this was maintained over the 5-year period (overall p < 0.0001), with no loss of efficacy between 2 and 5 years. Differences in the generalised anxiety (p = 0.0018) and depression scores (p = 0.0065) on the HADS were similar in both groups over the 5-year period. Gastroenterology and cardiology patients showed the greatest CBT gains. The outcomes for nurses were superior to those of other therapists. Deaths (n = 24) were similar in both groups; those in standard care died earlier than those in CBT-HA. Patients with mild personality disturbance and higher dependence levels had the best outcome with CBT-HA. Total costs were similar in both groups over the 5-year period (£12,590.58 for CBT-HA; £13,334.94 for standard care). CBT-HA was not cost-effective in terms of quality-adjusted life-years, as measured using the EQ-5D, but was cost-effective in terms of HAI outcomes, and offset the cost of treatment. Limitations: Many eligible patients were not randomised and the population treated may not be representative. Conclusions: CBT-HA is a highly effective treatment for pathological health anxiety with lasting benefit over 5 years. It also improves generalised anxiety and depressive symptoms more than standard care. The presence of personality abnormality is not a bar to successful outcome. CBT-HA may also be cost-effective, but the high costs of concurrent medical illnesses obscure potential savings. This treatment deserves further research in medical settings.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Health Policy