Potentially traumatic events, social support and burden of persistent somatic symptoms: A longitudinal study

J Psychosom Res. 2022 Aug:159:110945. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2022.110945. Epub 2022 May 19.


Objective: Psychological trauma is a well-known risk factor for the onset of persistent somatic symptoms (PSS). In contrast, little is known on the relation between potentially traumatic events (PTEs) and the severity of PSS, and on the protective effect of social support. We aimed to: (i) determine whether childhood, adulthood and recent PTEs are associated with burden of PSS over four years of follow-up; (ii) examine associations of multiple and cumulative (in childhood and adulthood) exposure to PTEs with burden of PSS; and (iii) determine whether social support modifies these associations.

Methods: Longitudinal data of 322 patients with PSS were analyzed. PTEs (Life Events Questionnaire) and social support (Social Support Scale) were assessed at baseline. Burden of PSS was measured in terms of symptom severity (PHQ-15) and physical functioning (RAND-36 PCS) at six repeated measurements over a four-year interval. Associations were analyzed using longitudinal mixed model analysis.

Results: Patients with multiple childhood PTEs reported higher burden of PSS over four-year time. Adulthood PTEs were associated with burden of PSS in patients with, but not in patients without childhood PTEs. Recent PTEs were not associated with burden over time. Social support did not modify any of the associations.

Conclusions: PTEs are associated with higher burden of PSS over time, in addition to the well-known association with the onset of PSS. PTEs in early life and cumulative exposure to PTEs in childhood and adulthood are associated with higher burden over time in patients with PSS. Social support did not attenuate the associations.

Keywords: Course; Medically unexplained symptoms; Persistent somatic symptoms; Social support; Trauma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Medically Unexplained Symptoms*
  • Psychological Trauma*
  • Social Support
  • Surveys and Questionnaires