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Aug 16, 2014 06:03 AM EDT

Online Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Effective in Teating Health Anxiety, Study

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Online cognitive behaviour therapy is more effective in treating health anxiety than active psychological treatments involving relaxation and stress management therapies, according to a new study by the Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.

The researchers said that health anxiety, also known as hypochondria, can be described as a strong, persistent and excessive fear of succumbing to serious illness. Patients suffering from this anxiety disorder experience chest pain or headaches that are often perceived to be some serious disease.

The medical condition causing distress often occurs among patients within primary care and due to mental illness like depression.

The cognitive behaviour therapy via Internet involves gradual exposure to situations that may activate health anxiety.

For the first time, the researchers subjected 158 participants to both internet and psychological treatment for 12 weeks. The participants had access to therapists via e-mail.

The researchers said that the participants found both the treatments to be equally reliable in reducing their anxiety. But, the exposure-based treatment lowered health anxiety to a greater extent than the treatment focused on relaxation and stress management. 

"More people can be treated since the treatment time per patient is significantly lower as compared to that of traditional treatment. Internet treatment is independent of physical distance and, in time, this means that treatment can be administered to people who live in rural areas or in places where there is no outpatient psychiatry with access to psychologists with CBT expertise," said licensed psychologist Erik Hedman, who led the study, in a statement.

The finding is published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

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