On the perceived meaning of symptoms

Med Care. 1981 Jul;19(7):710-7. doi: 10.1097/00005650-198107000-00002.


The importance of understanding the manner in which symptoms are interpreted is generally recognized, but has received relatively little direct research attention. In an attempt to obtain some evidence on the meaning attached to each of a set of 45 symptoms, subjects were asked to rate the symptoms on eight semantic properties. The symptom ratings on the various properties were then correlated and the correlation matrix subjected to a principal components factor analysis. Three factors of perceived meaning emerged. The first factor is defined by the extent to which symptoms are perceived as threatening, disruptive and painful. The second factor consists of the familiarity of symptoms and the perceived personal responsibility for their occurrence. The third factor reflects how embarrassing the symptoms are. This structure of perceived meaning of symptoms is discussed with reference to the literature on delay in seeking medical care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making*
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Status*
  • Health*
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Perception*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Sick Role*
  • Sociology, Medical*