Objective: About 13% of GPs' consultations involve unexplained complaints (UCs). These complaints can progress to chronic conditions like medically unexplained symptoms, chronic functional symptoms or somatoform disorders. Little is known about the demographic characteristics and quality of life of patients with early stage UCs. Our study objective was to describe these characteristics. Additionally we compared them with other patient groups to serve as a frame of reference.
Methods: Descriptive study in general practices. Patients with early stage UCs who had not had elaborate diagnostic investigations were included. Demographic characteristics were compared to a Dutch general practice population. Quality of life scores were measured with the RAND-36 and compared to another Dutch general practice population and to depressed patients.
Results: Data of 466 patients were available for analysis. Mean age was 44 years and 74% were females, mostly higher educated. Of the patients, 63% presented with unexplained fatigue. On average, quality of life was poor (mean RAND-36 domain scores 37-73), also in comparison with other groups.
Conclusion: General practice patients presenting with UCs have a remarkably poor quality of life. Future research should explore how early identification of patients at risk of developing chronicity can take place. Awareness of potential poor quality of life may influence GPs' medical decision making.