Unexplained physical symptoms: outcome, utilization of medical care and associated factors

Psychol Med. 1996 Jul;26(4):745-52. doi: 10.1017/s0033291700037764.


The aim of the study was to investigate the recovery and frequency of physician contact in patients with unexplained physical symptoms and to identify factors associated with persistent disorder. Of 100 consecutive patients who presented with medically unexplained symptoms to a general medical out-patient clinic, 81 participated in a follow-up study. The mean follow-up time was 15.2 months (S.D. 4.0). At follow-up, many of the patients with unexplained physical symptoms reported that they had recovered (30%) or improved (46%) with regard to their presenting symptoms. Female sex and a high number of symptoms predicted a bad outcome in terms of recovery. Persistence of symptoms was not related to the duration of the symptoms, type of presenting complaint or the presence of psychiatric disorder. Forty per cent of patients with unexplained symptoms did not visit their general practitioner on their own initiative in the year following the initial visit to the clinic. Medical care utilization appeared to be associated with female sex, age, number and duration of symptoms, fatigue and psychiatric disorder, especially somatoform disorders. However, the association of a high frequency of physician contact with female sex and psychiatric disorder was not sustained after controlling for possible confounding factors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sex Factors
  • Somatoform Disorders / psychology*