Objective: To review the empirical literature on somatization in the pediatric age group, emphasizing prevalence, influence on health care utilization, issues in the development of somatization, comorbidity with other psychiatric disorders, assessment, and treatment.
Method: One hundred nineteen studies and reports addressing medically unexplained somatic symptoms in children and adolescents were compiled via MEDLINE search and extensive cross-referencing. All available controlled studies were included, as were selected case reports and collections of cases. Selected citations from the adult literature were chosen for relevance to pediatric somatization.
Results: Recurrent, medically unexplained physical symptoms are common in the pediatric age group, are often associated with other psychiatric symptoms, and may represent a common presentation of psychiatric disorder in the primary care setting. DSM-III-R-defined somatization disorder is rare, and pseudoneurological symptoms are unusual. Patients may be at risk for potentially dangerous, costly, and unnecessary medical investigations and treatments, and they may excessively utilize health care services.
Conclusion: Our current understanding of pediatric somatization and its consequences is limited. Collaboration between mental health professionals and primary health care providers is essential. Consistent terminology, developmentally appropriate classification, and systematic future research will be necessary for the development of successful prevention and treatment strategies.