Childhood adversity and frequent medical consultations

Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2004 Sep-Oct;26(5):367-77. doi: 10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2004.04.001.


We assessed possible psychological mediators of the relationship between childhood adversity and frequent medical consultations among new outpatients at neurology, cardiology, and gastroenterology clinics. We assessed whether these differed in patients with and without organic disease that explained their symptoms. At first clinic visit we recorded Hospital Anxiety and Depression scale (HADS--anxiety and depression subscale scores), Illness Perception Questionnaire (IPQ--four subscales: consequences, cure, identity, timeline), Health Anxiety Questionnaire (total score), and Symptom Amplification Scale (total score). Subjects were divided into two groups according to whether they had experienced any type of childhood adversity using the Childhood Experience of Care and Abuse Schedule. Outcome was the (log) number of medical consultations for 12 months before and 6 months after the index clinic visits. Multiple regression analysis was used to determine mediators; this was performed separately for patients with symptoms explained and not explained by organic disease. One-hundred and twenty-nine patients (61% response) were interviewed. Fifty-two (40.3%) had experienced childhood adversity; they made a median of 16 doctor visits compared with 10 for those without adversity (adjusted P=.026). IPQ identity score (number of symptoms attributed to the illness) and HAD depression scores were significantly associated with both childhood adversity and number of medical consultations and these variables acted as mediators between childhood adversity and frequency of consultation in the multiple regression analyses. This association was limited to patients with medically unexplained symptoms and was mediated by IPQ Identity Score (number of symptoms attributed to the patient's illness) and HAD depression score. Sexual abuse and overt neglect were the adversities most closely associated with frequent consultations. In patients with medically unexplained symptoms the association between childhood adversity and frequent medical consultations is mediated by the number of bodily symptoms attributed to the illness. Psychological treatments should be targeted at these patients with a view to reducing their frequent doctor visits.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / epidemiology
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology*
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / statistics & numerical data
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / psychology
  • Female
  • Hospitals, Teaching
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Medicine / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • Outpatient Clinics, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Personality Development*
  • Personality Inventory / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychometrics / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / psychology
  • Psychosocial Deprivation*
  • Referral and Consultation / statistics & numerical data*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Risk Factors
  • Sick Role
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Somatoform Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Somatoform Disorders / psychology
  • Specialization
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Unnecessary Procedures / statistics & numerical data*
  • Utilization Review / statistics & numerical data