Epidemiology Prevalence

Faravelli et al.(36) found that 4.5 per cent of persons in Florence had hypochondriasis. In an early study, Agras et al.(37) reported that 17 per cent of persons in Vermont had some fear of illness and 3 per cent had illness or injury phobias. However, the relationship of such phobias to hypochondriasis is uncertain. Noyes (38) found hypochondriasis in 8 per cent of relatives who had participated in a family study. Among whom, the disorder was only weakly related to demographic variables but was associated with psychiatric comorbidity, functional impairment, and increased use of health services.

The prevalence of hypochondriasis among general medical patients has been estimated at between 0.8 and to 10.3 per cent. (38) In a cross-national survey, Gureje et al.(l9) noted that, if the criterion of failure to respond to reassurance was dropped, 2.2 per cent of their patients qualified for the diagnosis and were just as impaired as those who met this criterion. Taking that into account and limiting prevalence estimates to those obtained using diagnostic criteria, the range narrows in seven studies to between 2.2 and 6.9 per cent. Hypochondriasis appears to be more prevalent among medical patients than in the general population. (39)

Hypochondriasis may be prevalent in medical specialty populations where many patients have functional disturbances. For instance, one survey identified the disorder in 13 per cent of patients attending an otolaryngology clinic. (49 Also, levels of hypochondriasis are higher in patients with functional illnesses than in those with organic illnesses. For example, Gomborone et al.(41) observed higher hypochondriasis scores in patients with an irritable bowel than in patients with organic gastrointestinal disease. The prevalence of hypochondriasis in psychiatric populations appears especially high, but estimates have varied and are difficult to evaluate.(38)

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