Aims: As subjective health complaints are one of the major reasons for short- and long-term sickness absence it is important to know the prevalence of these conditions in the general population.
Methods: In this cross-sectional study, 1,240 individuals (aged 15-84 years) from the normal population in Norway answered the Subjective Health Complaint (SHC) inventory in spring 1996.
Results: The prevalence of reporting subjective health complaints was high: 80% reported musculoskeletal complaints, 65% reported "pseudoneurological" complaints (tiredness, depression, dizziness), 60% gastrointestinal complaints, 34% allergic complaints, and 54% flu-like complaints. The prevalence of substantial complaints was low: 13% reported musculoskeletal complaints, 5% reported "pseudoneurological" complaints, 4% gastrointestinal complaints, 2% allergic complaints, and 18% flu-like complaints. Women had higher prevalence of musculoskeletal, "pseudoneurological", and allergic complaints compared with men, and reported more substantial complaints on all subscales. Individuals older than 50 years were less likely to report headache, tiredness, eczema, and flu-like complaints compared with individuals younger than 30 years. However, they had higher risk of arm pain, shoulder pain, palpitations, and several gastrointestinal and allergic complaints. The intensity of musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, and allergic complaints was significantly higher in the oldest age group.
Conclusions: Subjective health complaints are very common in the normal population; there are gender and age differences in both prevalence and degree of complaints. The intensity of subjective health complaints forms a continuum, and there are no obvious cut-off point to indicate what are "normal" complaints and what is illness.