Multiple physical symptoms and individual characteristics - A cross-sectional study of the general population

J Psychosom Res. 2020 Jan 28;131:109941. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2020.109941. Online ahead of print.


Objective: Multiple physical symptoms not attributable to known organic disease are common in all medical fields and associated with major personal and social consequences. This study investigated multiple physical symptoms according to the construct of bodily distress syndrome (BDS) and associated individual characteristics in the general adult population.

Methods: A nationwide, population-based study of 100,000 randomly selected individuals aged 20 years and older, conducted in 2012. A web-based questionnaire formed the basis of the study and was combined with Danish national registry data on socioeconomic factors and medication and healthcare use.

Results: 49,706 individuals completed the questionnaire. After exclusion of women indicating pregnancy, respondents reporting chronic disease and respondents over 65 years of age, 23,331 remained for analysis. Of these 23,331 individuals, 15.5% fulfilled the criteria for BDS. BDS positives were more often younger (20-40 years) and female. Self-rated health and self-reported functional capacity were impaired among these individuals. Fulfilling the BDS criteria was significantly associated with current or former smoking, overweight and obesity, low educational level and income, and unemployment. Moreover, individuals with BDS were more often from ethnic minorities and had higher use of healthcare and medication.

Conclusion: Multiple physical symptoms, as captured by the concept of BDS, are common in the general adult population, especially among younger women. Fulfilling the BDS criteria is associated with substantial negative impact on self-perceived health and socioeconomic parameters. Fulfilling BDS criteria is positively associated with health risk behaviors (smoking, overweight and obesity) and higher use of healthcare and medication.

Keywords: Bodily distress syndrome; Functional somatic syndromes; General population; Iatrogenic harm; Lifestyle factors; Multiple physical symptoms; Self-rated health.