Background: Health anxiety (HA), or hypochondriasis, is a psychological problem characterized by a preoccupation with the belief that one is physically unwell. A 2007 Cochrane review (Thomson and Page, 2007) found cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to be an effective intervention for individuals with HA. Similar findings were reported in a recent meta-analysis (Olatunji et al., 2014), which did not employ a systematic search strategy. The current review aimed to investigate the efficacy of CBT for HA, and to update the existing reviews.
Method: A systematic search was conducted following Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidance, including randomized controlled trials that compared CBT with a control condition for people with HA. Five hundred and sixty-seven studies were found in the original search, of which 14 were included in the meta-analysis.
Results: Meta-analysis was conducted on 21 comparisons and a large effect size for CBT compared with a control condition was found at post therapy d = 1.01 (95% confidence interval 0.77-1.25), as well as at 6- and 12-month follow-up.
Conclusions: This systematic review and meta-analysis provides support for the hypothesis that CBT is an effective intervention for HA when compared with a variety of control conditions, e.g. treatment-as-usual, waiting list, medication, and other psychological therapies.
Keywords: Hypochondriasis; cognitive behavioural therapy; health anxiety; meta-analysis; systematic review.