Health anxiety and its relationship to disability and service use: Findings from a large epidemiological survey

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Objective: To explore the contribution of health anxiety to disability and use of mental health and medical services, independently of co-occurring mental and physical conditions. Methods: Data from the Australian National Survey of Mental Health andWellbeing 2007 were analyzed (n = 8841). Participants were aged 16 to 85 years (mean [standard deviation] = 46.3 [19.0] years) and 54% were women. Results: Health anxiety accounted independently for high disability and service use. People with health anxiety were more likely to use both mental health (for psychiatrists: odds ratio [OR] = 2.1, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.2-3.5; for psychologists: OR = 1.9, 95% CI = 1.2-3.3) and specialist medical services (OR = 1.7, 95% CI = 1.2-2.3) than people without health anxiety. However, they were not high-frequency attenders to specialist mental health services (OR = 1.6 [95% CI = 0.9-3.0] and OR = 1.3 [95% CI = 0.6-2.9]) compared with people with other mental disorders (OR = 11.7 [95% CI = 4.3-31.8] and OR = 29.5 [95% CI = 13.5-64.6] for psychiatrists and psychologists, respectively). People with health anxiety were likely to be high-frequency attenders to general practice (OR = 2.0, 95% CI = 1.4-2.8) and specialist medical services (OR = 2.4, 95% CI = 1.7-3.6). Conclusions: It is important to recognize and treat health anxiety, even when coexisting with other conditions, to prevent high disability burden and excessive service use. The cross-sectional design and self-reported outcomes may have resulted in overestimation of the associations. Future work is needed on actual service use using reviews of medical records.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-25
Number of pages13
JournalPsychosomatic Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Comorbidity
  • Disability
  • Epidemiology
  • Health anxiety
  • Service use

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