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November 20, 1987

Hypochondriasis and Somatization

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.

From the Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.

JAMA. 1987;258(19):2718-2722. doi:10.1001/jama.1987.03400190100036

Between 60% and 80% of healthy individuals experience somatic symptoms in any one week. About 10% to 20% of a random sample of people worry intermittently about illness. A substantial proportion of patients present physicians with somatic complaints for which no organic cause can be found. Patients who are hypochondriacal do not understand the benign nature of functional somatic symptoms and interpret these as evidence of disease. Hypochondriacal concerns range from common short-lived worries to persistent and distressing fears or convictions of having a disease. Hypochondriasis can be secondary to other psychiatric disorders (eg, melancholia or panic disorder), and hypochondriacal attitudes remit when the primary disorder is successfully treated. Patients with primary hypochondriasis are also anxious or depressed, but the fear of disease, or the false belief of having a disease, persists and is the most important feature of their psychopathology. There are substantial differences among hypochondriacal patients in their personalities and psychopathologies. Psychotherapy as well as psychotropic drugs are effective in the treatment of functional somatic symptoms. There are no adequate controlled studies on the value of psychotherapy in hypochondriasis; the recommended guidelines are based on uncontrolled studies of hypochondriasis and on controlled studies of the psychotherapy in similar disorders. The prognosis of functional somatic symptoms as well as that of hypochondriasis is good in a substantial proportion of patients.

(JAMA 1987;258:2718-2722)