The reporting of specific physical symptoms for mental distress in general practice

J Psychosom Res. 2005 Aug;59(2):89-95. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2005.02.011.


Objective: Do patients report specific physical symptoms in the presence of mental distress, taking into account the presence of somatic disease?

Methods: Cross-sectional data were collected from 1458 participants in eight general practices in The Netherlands. Electronic patient records provided information on somatic disease. Questionnaires included the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) to measure mental distress and the Physical Symptom Checklist (PSC).

Results: Patients reporting mental distress reported all types of physical symptoms more often than did patients without mental distress. Multivariate analyses in women, corrected for the presence of somatic disease, did not substantially change the univariate pattern. Odds ratios were particularly high (>6) for feeling tired or having low energy, fatigue without exertion and forgetfulness.

Conclusion: It is the level of mental distress rather than gender or somatic disease that accounts for the reporting of any physical symptom. Fatigue might be an exception, but here, the classification as "physical" rather then "mental" is somewhat ambiguous.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / diagnosis
  • Anxiety / epidemiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / epidemiology*
  • Fatigue / diagnosis
  • Fatigue / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Somatoform Disorders / diagnosis
  • Somatoform Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires