An international study comparing the effect of medically explained and unexplained somatic symptoms on psychosocial outcome
Objective: Cross-sectional studies show an association between somatic symptoms and psychiatric morbidity in primary care. However, medically explained and unexplained symptoms have been considered separately as distinct and unrelated. In addition, data on outcome in primary care are equivocal. We compare the effect of both constructs (medically explained and unexplained symptoms) on psychiatric morbidity and disability (social and physical) at 1 year follow-up. Method: Of 5447 patients presenting for primary care in 14 countries, 3201 participants were followed up (72% compliance). We measured physical, psychiatric, and social status using standardised instruments. Results: Patients with five or more somatic symptoms had increased psychosocial morbidity and physical disability at follow-up, even after controlling for confounders such as sociodemographics and recognition or treatment by general practitioners. There was little difference in outcome between medically explained and unexplained symptoms. Conclusions: Somatic symptoms-irrespective of aetiology-are associated with adverse psychosocial and functional outcome in diverse cultures.
Journal of Psychosomatic Research
Clinical Sciences not elsewhere classified