"Unexplained" Somatic Symptoms, Functional Syndromes, and Somatization: Do We Need a Paradigm Shift?

Ann Intern Med. 2001 May 1;134(9 Pt 2):926-30. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-134-9_part_2-200105011-00018.

Abstract

Medically unexplained functional or somatization symptoms are somatic disorders that are not adequately explained by physical disease processes. The way in which these disorders have been understood and managed has varied over the history of medicine. However, only in the past 100 years has the "mental" explanation predominated. A benefit of this trend has been the development of effective treatments in the form of "antidepressant" drugs and cognitive-behavioral therapies; a cost has been limited integration of these treatments into medical practice and lack of acceptability to patients. We suggest that there is much to learn from physicians of the pre-Freudian era. Their etiologic theories are now supported by new scientific evidence, and their clinical practice provided ways of making psychological treatment acceptable to patients. We propose a paradigm shift in which unexplained symptoms are remedicalized around the notion of a functional disturbance of the nervous system and treatments currently considered "psychiatric" are integrated into general medical care.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Research
  • Somatoform Disorders / history
  • Somatoform Disorders / psychology*
  • Somatoform Disorders / therapy
  • Syndrome