Background: The aim of this study was to design a self-report measure of behavioural responses during the acute phase of an illness, in order to assess the importance of these behaviours in the development of ongoing medically unexplained syndromes.
Method: An initial pool of items derived from theoretical models and clinical observation, was piloted on a group of 312 university students to assess the factor structure of the scale and the best fit items. The scale was further validated in a second study of 758 patients who were experiencing Campylobacter gastroenteritis. At 3 months post-infection, patients were sent a second questionnaire assessing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Results: Principal components analysis of the items in the student sample yielded a four-factor solution, labelled all-or-nothing behaviour, limiting behaviour, emotional support seeking and practical support seeking. The factor structure was confirmed in the Campylobacter sample, and internal reliability was good. All-or-nothing behaviour was associated with IBS at 3 months post-infection. In contrast, limiting behaviour and practical support seeking at the time of infection appeared to be protective.
Conclusion: The results suggest that this is a valid and reliable measure that can predict the development of a medically unexplained syndrome after acute infection. Overdoing things at the time of infection and then needing to rest for prolonged periods (all-or-nothing behaviour), appears to be a particular risk factor for the development of IBS. Targeted interventions at the time of infection may improve coping and prevent symptoms from becoming chronic.