Epidemiology and organisation of care in medically unexplained symptoms: A systematic review with a focus on cultural diversity and migrants

Int J Clin Pract. 2021 Dec;75(12):e14855. doi: 10.1111/ijcp.14855. Epub 2021 Sep 30.


Background: Since the pathophysiology of medically unexplained symptoms (MUS) remains unclear, healthcare providers often struggle with these patients, especially with a different ethnic and/or cultural background. These challenges are insufficiently addressed in their training and in the organisation of care.

Aim: To improve healthcare provider-patient interaction focused on MUS patients in general and in ethnic minorities and refugees in particular through a systematic review of syndromal definitions and epidemiology and organisation of care of MUS patients.

Methods: Screening of PubMed, Web of Science, Cinahl and Cochrane Library on the keywords 'Medical unexplained (physical) symptoms (MUPS)', 'Somatoform disorder', 'Functional syndrome', 'Diversity', 'Migrants', 'Ethnicity', 'Care models', 'Medical education', 'Communication skills', 'Health literacy'.

Results: Different case definitions result in markedly different epidemiological estimates for MUS patients. Nevertheless, they are prevalent in a wide range of healthcare settings. Literature offers evidence of the effectiveness of structural frameworks in approaching MUS patients. Organisation of MUS care needs to transcend different levels of care: specialist tertiary and secondary care and primary care involving different qualifications of caregivers need to be aligned.

Conclusion: The systematic review identified significant gaps and shortcomings in organisation of care. These need to be addressed in order to improve outcomes.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cultural Diversity
  • Ethnic and Racial Minorities
  • Humans
  • Medically Unexplained Symptoms*
  • Primary Health Care
  • Transients and Migrants*