The Association Between Benign Fasciculations and Health Anxiety: A Report of Two Cases and a Systematic Review of the Literature

Graham Blackman*, Yasmine Cherfi, Hamilton Morrin, Cathy M. Ellis, James Bashford, Florian Ruths, Anthony S. David

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Benign fasciculation syndrome (BFS)is characterized by persistent spontaneous contractions of muscle fibers in the absence of a pathological cause. Patients with BFS often have concerns around having motor neuron disease, in some cases fulfilling the criteria for health anxiety disorder. Research on how BFS and health anxiety relate to one another and how they should be optimally managed together is sparse. Objective: We report two cases of BFS associated with health anxiety. We also review the literature on the association between BFS and health anxiety. Methods: We systematically reviewed the literature using MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, and OpenGrey for studies investigating benign fasciculations and anxiety up to August 2018. Results: Both cases were successfully treated for health anxiety disorder with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)and antidepressant medication. We identified eight studies that met the inclusion criteria, describing a total of 384 patients. Most studies were of moderate quality. Patients with BFS tended to be male and in their 30s or 40s. There was an overrepresentation of clinicians. Anxiety symptoms were common and frequently coexisted alongside fasciculations. Health anxiety was overwhelmingly focused around motor neuron disease. Conclusion: A proportion of individuals with BFS experience anxiety around having motor neuron disease—to the point of developing health anxiety disorder. A bidirectional relationship may exist between BFS and health anxiety disorder. Clinicians should be alert to the possibility of health anxiety disorder in patients with BFS and have a low threshold to refer for psychiatric assessment. There is support for the role of psychological therapy, especially CBT, as well as pharmacotherapy, in the form of antidepressant medication. In severe or treatment-refractive cases, combined treatment may be indicated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)499-507
Number of pages9
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2019


  • anxiety
  • fasciculation
  • hypochondriasis
  • motor neuron disease
  • somatization


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