Symptoms as a source of medical knowledge: understanding medically unexplained disorders in women

Fam Med. 2000 Oct;32(9):603-11.


In cases where a traditional medical frame of reference does not fully offer an adequate tool for understanding, the resident may find it perplexing to apply knowledge from medical school, where disease implies symptoms, findings, diagnosis, and cure. Medically unexplained disorders, mostly occurring in women, are chronic and disabling conditions, presenting with extensive subjective symptoms, although objective findings or causal explanations are lacking. Acquiring the knowledge and skills needed for adequate care of patients with chronic fatigue or pain syndromes is not an easy task. This paper presents a strategy for teaching, intended to facilitate understanding through appreciation of symptoms as a source of knowledge. The clinical approach is based on empowering practices supported by theoretical perspectives about signs, narratives, knowing, and gender. Also examined is the impact of commonly occurring teaching traps related to gender, psychosocial labeling, universalistic understanding, omnipotence, and power.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Disease*
  • Communication
  • Empathy
  • Family Practice*
  • Humans
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Women's Health*