Effects of maternal health anxiety on children's health complaints, emotional symptoms, and quality of life

Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2017 May;26(5):591-601. doi: 10.1007/s00787-016-0927-1. Epub 2016 Dec 1.


Little is known about family risk factors and intergenerational transmission of psychological disturbance in the development of health anxiety (HA). This study investigated HA and related concepts in 8- to 17-year-old children who had been exposed to different maternal health status. Using a family case-control design, three family groups were included: (1) 50 case children of mothers with severe (HA); (2) 49 control children of mothers with rheumatoid arthritis (RA); and (3) 51 control children of healthy mothers. Children and mothers completed a battery of standardised questionnaires. Case children reported significantly higher level of HA symptoms than children of mothers with RA but not compared to children of healthy mothers. There was no significant difference between the children's self-reports in the three groups with regard to anxiety symptoms in general, physical complaints, or quality of life. In contrast, mothers with HA reported their children as having more emotional and physical symptoms than mothers in one or both control groups. Compared to mothers with RA but not healthy mothers, mothers with HA also reported more visits to the general practitioner with their children during the past year. The findings suggest that maternal HA only weakly affects children's own report of HA and thereby may not be a strong risk factor for the development of HA symptoms in childhood. However, mothers with severe HA seem to conceive their children as more ill and present them more often in the health care system which could, therefore, be an important target for intervention in adult patients.

Keywords: Child and adolescent; Family case–control study; Health anxiety; Hypochondriasis; Parental health status.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Affective Symptoms / psychology*
  • Anxiety
  • Anxiety Disorders / complications
  • Anxiety Disorders / diagnosis
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / psychology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Child Health
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Hypochondriasis / psychology*
  • Illness Behavior
  • Intergenerational Relations
  • Male
  • Maternal Health*
  • Mother-Child Relations
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Quality of Life*
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires