Perceived stigma in functional somatic syndromes and comparable medical conditions

J Psychosom Res. 2004 Oct;57(4):373-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2004.03.005.


Objective: To determine if patients with functional somatic syndromes (FSS) perceive greater levels of stigma than patients with comparable medical conditions that have a clear medical pathology.

Methods: Patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), fibromyalgia (FM), or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) were compared to multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), respectively.

Results: There were greater levels of perceived stigma in the combined group of FSS compared to the medical control group. When each FSS was compared to its matched control group, only CFS had a higher level of perceived stigma. These results remained when controlling for other variables relevant to stigma.

Conclusions: The higher level of perceived stigma in CFS may be due to the ambiguity of its status as a medical condition. The absence of this effect in FM and IBS is consistent with a greater level of acceptance of these disorders as medical illnesses.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living / psychology
  • Adult
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / psychology
  • Depression / psychology
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / psychology*
  • Female
  • Fibromyalgia / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / psychology
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / psychology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis / psychology
  • Personality Inventory
  • Prejudice*
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / psychology*
  • Sick Role
  • Social Perception*
  • Somatoform Disorders / psychology*