Somatic symptoms of depression in elderly patients with medical comorbidities

Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2005 Oct;20(10):973-82. doi: 10.1002/gps.1389.


Objective: Somatic symptoms of depression such as fatigue create a diagnostic dilemma when assessing an older patient with medical comorbidities, since chronic medical illnesses may produce similar symptoms. Alternatively, somatic symptoms attributed to medical illness may actually be caused by depression. These analyses were designed to determine if somatic symptoms in older patients are more strongly associated with chronic physical problems or with depression.

Design: Reanalysis of data from an observational study of depression in primary care and a randomized trial of paroxetine and nortriptyline for the treatment of major depression. Patients were evaluated with a structured diagnostic interview and a battery of psychiatric, physical, and psychosocial measures.

Participants: Two hundred and forty eight primary care and psychiatric patients aged >or= 60 years.

Methods: Associations among depression, somatization, and chronic physical problems were examined using correlations and regression modeling.

Results: Two somatization measures, the Asberg Side Effects Rating Scale and the Utvalg for Kliniske Undersogelser (UKU), were significantly associated with psychological symptoms of depression (r = 0.73 and r = 0.76, p < 0.0001) but not with medical comorbidities (r = 0.02, p = 0.16 and r = 0.10, p = 0.78). In multiple regression models, psychological symptoms of depression remained significant predictors of somatization (p < 0.0001) after controlling for age, gender, and medical comorbidities.

Conclusions: In older patients with medical disorders and multiple somatic complaints, clinicians should consider the possibility of depression. Rating scales emphasizing somatic symptoms associated with depression may provide a more accurate measure of depression severity than those excluding such symptoms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Ambulatory Care
  • Depressive Disorder / complications
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Female
  • Geriatric Assessment / methods
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Primary Health Care
  • Quality of Life
  • Somatoform Disorders / complications
  • Somatoform Disorders / psychology*