Intrusive imagery in severe health anxiety: Prevalence, nature and links with memories and maintenance cycles.
Muse K., McManus F., Hackmann A., Williams M., Williams M.
Increased understanding of the nature and role of intrusive imagery has contributed to the development of effective treatment protocols for some anxiety disorders. However, intrusive imagery in severe health anxiety (hypochondriasis) has been comparatively neglected. Hence, the current study investigates the prevalence, nature and content of intrusive imagery in 55 patients who met DSM-IV-TR (APA, 2000) criteria for the diagnosis of hypochondriasis. A semi-structured interview was used to assess the prevalence, nature and possible role of intrusive imagery in this disorder. Over 78% of participants reported experiencing recurrent, distressing intrusive images, the majority (72%) of which either were a memory of an earlier event or were strongly associated with a memory. The images tended to be future orientated, and were reliably categorised into four themes: i) being told 'the bad news' that you have a serious/life threatening-illness (6.9%), ii) suffering from a serious or life-threatening illness (34.5%), iii) death and dying due to illness (22.4%) and iv) impact of own death or serious illness on loved ones (36.2%). Participants reported responding to experiencing intrusive images by engaging in avoidance, checking, reassurance seeking, distraction and rumination. Potential treatment implications and links to maintenance cycles are considered.