Patients presenting with somatic complaints: Epidemiology, psychiatric co-morbidity and management

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374 Scopus citations


Somatic symptoms are the leading cause of outpatient medical visits and also the predominant reason why patients with common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety initially present in primary care. At least 33% of somatic symptoms are medically unexplained, and these symptoms are chronic or recurrent in 20% to 25% of patients. Unexplained or multiple somatic symptoms are strongly associated with coexisting depressive and anxiety disorders. Other predictors of psychiatric co-morbidity include recent stress, lower self-rated health and higher somatic symptom severity, as well as high healthcare utilization, difficult patient encounters as perceived by the physician, and chronic medical disorders. Antidepressants and cognitive-behavioural therapy are both effective for treatment of somatic symptoms, as well as for functional somatic syndromes such as irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, pain disorders, and chronic headache. A stepped care approach is described, which consists of three phases that may be useful in the care of patients with somatic symptoms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)34-43
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 17 2003


  • Anxiety disorder
  • Co-morbidity
  • Depression
  • Somatic symptoms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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