Experts' opinions on the management of medically unexplained symptoms in primary care. A qualitative analysis of narrative reviews and scientific editorials

Fam Pract. 2011 Aug;28(4):444-55. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmr004. Epub 2011 Mar 2.


Background: The feasibility as well as the suitability of several therapies for medically unexplained symptoms (MUS) in primary care applied by the family physician (FP) appeared to be low. FPs need effective and acceptable strategies to manage these functionally impaired patients.

Objective: To review important and effective elements in the treatment of patients with MUS in primary care according to experts in MUS research.

Methods: We performed a systematic search of narrative reviews and scientific editorials in Medline and PsycINFO and triangulated our findings by conducting a focus group with MUS experts.

Results: We included 7 scientific editorials and 23 narrative reviews. According to MUS experts, the most important elements in the treatment of MUS are creating a safe therapeutic environment, generic interventions (such as motivational interviewing, giving tangible explanations, reassurance and regularly scheduled appointments) and specific interventions (such as cognitive approaches and pharmacotherapy). Furthermore, MUS experts indicate that a multi-component approach in which these three important elements are combined are most helpful for patients with MUS. In contrast to most specific interventions, opinions of MUS experts regarding generic interventions and creating a safe therapeutic relationship seem to be more based on theory and experience than on quantitative research.

Conclusions: MUS experts highlight the importance of generic interventions and doctor-patient communication and relationship. However, studies showing the effectiveness of these elements in the management of MUS in primary care is still scarce. Research as well as medical practice should focus more on these non-specific aspects of the medical consultation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Expert Testimony*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Primary Health Care / methods*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Somatoform Disorders / therapy*