Objectives: There is a lack of research examining the incidence of health anxiety in chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME), despite this being an important research area with potentially significant clinical implications. This preliminary study aimed to determine the incidence of anxiety and depression, more specifically health anxiety, in a sample of CFS/ME patients over a 3-month period.
Design: The research was a cross-sectional questionnaire-based study, using a consecutive sample of patients who were assessed in a CFS/ME service.
Method: Data were taken from the Short Health Anxiety Inventory and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale to identify incidence of anxiety, depression, and health anxiety.
Results: Data were collected from 45 CFS/ME patients over the sampling period. Thirty-one patients (68.9%) scored above the normal range but within the subclinical range of health anxiety, and 19 patients (42.2%) scored within the clinically significant health anxiety range. Anxiety and depression were common, with prevalence rates of 42.2% and 33.3% respectively, which is comparable to data found in a recent large-scale trial.
Conclusions: Health anxiety in CFS/ME patients is likely to be common and warrants further investigation to provide a better insight into how this may influence treatment and symptom management.
Practitioner points: Anxiety and depression were common in a sample of chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) patients, with a high proportion meeting criteria for severe health anxiety. While CFS/ME and health anxiety are distinct and separate conditions, it is unsurprising that patients with CFS/ME, who commonly report feeling 'delegitimized', may experience high levels of anxiety relating to their physical symptoms. Clinicians should consider screening for health anxiety due to the possible clinical implications for treatment; mutual maintenance may negatively influence treatment success in a complex condition such as CFS/ME. Health anxiety has been found to be common across other chronic medical conditions but has been shown to be effectively treated with appropriately tailored interventions.
Keywords: anxiety; chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis; depression; health anxiety.
© 2017 The British Psychological Society.