The somatic patient

Emerg Med Clin North Am. 1991 Feb;9(1):137-59.


A significant proportion of patients seen in the Emergency Department will present with somatic complaints for which there is no apparent physiologic cause. Such patients may be divided into two broad categories: (1) those with symptoms and signs consciously synthesized by the patient, either for obvious secondary gain (malingering) or as a result of more subtle and complex motivations (factitious disorders); and (2) those patients with symptoms that are the unconscious expression of psychological stress (somatoform disorders). The somatoform disorders include (1) somatization disorder (characterized by a chronic history of numerous and widely divergent somatic complaints), (2) psychogenic pain disorder (somatization expressed in terms of persistent pain), (3) hypochondriasis (a conviction that one is diseased and disabled in conjunction with a well-focused constellation of supporting symptoms), and (4) conversion disorder (a single, usually nonpainful neurologic symptom, often with identifiable coping value for the patient). The first three disorders have been aggregately termed the "common somatization syndrome." Management of the somatically focused patient includes the communication of a caring attitude to the patient in conjunction with a cautious and diligent search for treatable medical or psychiatric illness. Resocialization and development of patient links with ongoing, nurturing nonmedical as well as medical support systems is of benefit.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Factitious Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Factitious Disorders* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders* / therapy
  • Somatoform Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Somatoform Disorders* / therapy