The impact of internet-delivered cognitive behavioural therapy for health anxiety on cyberchondria

J Anxiety Disord. 2020 Jan;69:102150. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2019.102150. Epub 2019 Oct 31.

Abstract

Cyberchondria refers to an emotional-behavioural pattern whereby excessive online searches lead to increased anxiety about one's own health status. It has been shown to be associated with health anxiety, however it is unknown whether existing cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) interventions targeting health anxiety also improve cyberchondria. This study aimed to determine whether internet-delivered cognitive behavioural therapy (iCBT) for severe health anxiety led to improvements in self-reported cyberchondria and whether improvements in cyberchondria were associated with improvements in health anxiety observed during treatment. Methods: We analysed secondary data from a randomised controlled trial (RCT) comparing an iCBT group (n = 41) to an active control group who underwent psychoeducation, monitoring and clinical support (n = 41) in health anxious patients with a DSM-5 diagnosis of Illness Anxiety Disorder and/or Somatic Symptom Disorder. The iCBT group showed a significantly greater reduction in cyberchondria compared to the control group, with large differences at post-treatment on the Cyberchondria Severity Scale Total scale (CSS; Hedges g = 1.09), and the Compulsion, Distress, Excessiveness subscales of the CSS (g's: 0.8-1.13). Mediation analyses showed improvements in health anxiety in the iCBT group were mediated by improvements in all of the CSS subscales, except for the Mistrust subscale. Conclusions: Internet CBT for health anxiety improves cyberchondria.

Keywords: Cyberchondria; Health anxiety; Illness anxiety disorder; Online health information searching; Somatic symptom disorder.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Anxiety / therapy*
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Distance Counseling / methods*
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Hypochondriasis / psychology
  • Hypochondriasis / therapy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychotherapy, Group / methods
  • Self Report
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult