The somatization in primary care study: a tale of three diagnoses

Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2003 Jan-Feb;25(1):1-7. doi: 10.1016/s0163-8343(02)00247-5.


Somatization is a common phenomenon that has been defined in many ways. The two most widely used diagnoses, Somatization Disorder (SD) and Abridged Somatization Disorder (ASD), are based on lifetime unexplained symptoms. However, reports indicate instability in lifetime symptom recall among somatizing patients. Multisomatoform disorder (MSD) is a new diagnosis based on current unexplained symptoms. To understand how knowledge about SD and ASD translates to MSD, we examined the diagnostic concordance, impairment and health care utilization of these groups in a sample from the Somatization in Primary Care Study. The diagnostic concordance was high between MSD and SD, but lower between MSD and ASD. All three groups reported considerable physical impairment (measured using the PCS subscale of the SF-36). The mental health (MCS) scores for the three groups were only slightly lower than those of the general population. Over the course of one year, physical functioning fell significantly for all three groups. Mental functioning did not change significantly for any of the three groups over this period. Utilization patterns were very similar for the three groups. The high prevalence, serious impairment, and worsening physical functioning over the course of one year suggest the importance of developing interventions in primary care to alleviate the impaired physical functioning and reduce utilization in somatizing patients. MSD should be a useful diagnosis for targeting these interventions because it identifies a sizable cohort of somatizing patients reporting impairment of comparable severity to full SD, using a more efficient diagnostic algorithm based on current symptoms.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Somatoform Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Somatoform Disorders / epidemiology