Journal Article
Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
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Hypochondriacal patients' appraisal of health and physical risks.

OBJECTIVE: The authors' goal was to assess the degree to which hypochondriasis is accompanied by a heightened sense of risk of disease and other physical hazards.

METHOD: Fifty-six patients meeting DSM-III-R criteria for hypochondriasis were compared with 127 nonhypochondriacal patients from the same primary care setting. Both groups completed a self-report questionnaire assessing the degree to which they felt at risk of developing various medical diseases or being subject to injury from accidents or criminal assault.

RESULTS: Both groups of patients exhibited an optimistic bias in that they considered themselves to be less at risk than others of their age and sex. However, the hypochondriacal group had a significantly higher total risk score than did the nonhypochondriacal group. In large part, this intergroup difference was the result of the hypochondriacal patients' perception that they were likely to develop various diseases. The hypochondriacal group did not score significantly higher than the comparison group in estimating their risk of succumbing to accidents and criminal victimization. Perceived risk was significantly associated with the self-reported tendency to amplify benign bodily sensations.

CONCLUSIONS: An exaggerated appraisal of risk, jeopardy, and vulnerability to disease may be part of the cognitive distortion seen in hypochondriasis. If this is confirmed, cognitive and behavioral therapies for hypochondriasis may need to include a focus on these patients' understanding and appraisal of risk.

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