Cardiophobia: a paradigmatic behavioural model of heart-focused anxiety and non-anginal chest pain

Behav Res Ther. 1992 Jul;30(4):329-45. doi: 10.1016/0005-7967(92)90045-i.


Cardiophobia is defined as an anxiety disorder of persons characterized by repeated complaints of chest pain, heart palpitations, and other somatic sensations accompanied by fears of having a heart attack and of dying. Persons with cardiophobia focus attention on their heart when experiencing stress and arousal, perceive its function in a phobic manner, and continue to believe that they suffer from an organic heart problem despite repeated negative medical tests. In order to reduce anxiety, they seek continuous reassurance, make excessive use of medical facilities, and avoid activities believed to elicit symptoms. The relationship of cardiophobia to illness phobia, health anxiety, and panic disorder is discussed. An integrative psychobiological model of cardiophobia is presented which includes previous learning conditions relating to experiences of separation and cardiac disease; deficient and inappropriate behavioural repertoires which constitute a psychological vulnerability for cardiophobic problems; negative life events, stressors, and conflicts in the person's present situation that trigger and contribute to the symptoms; current affective, cognitive, and behavioural symptoms and their stimulus properties; and genetic and acquired biological vulnerability factors. Finally, recommendations for the treatment of cardiophobia are derived from the model and areas of future research are outlined.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arousal*
  • Behavior Therapy*
  • Chest Pain / psychology*
  • Chest Pain / therapy
  • Fear
  • Humans
  • Neurocirculatory Asthenia / psychology*
  • Neurocirculatory Asthenia / therapy
  • Sick Role*