Medically unexplained symptoms, illness perception and childhood experience in neurology outpatients

S. A. Targosz, N. Kapur, F. Creed

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Objectives: Up to one third of patients presenting to neurology outpatients clinics have medically unexplained symptoms, but the aetiology of such symptoms is not well understood. In the current study we sought to investigate the role of anxiety, depression, cognitive factors and early experience in the development of medically unexplained symptoms. Method: Fifty-seven new patients presenting to a neurology outpatients clinic were studied. Demographic details were recorded and a Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, an Illness Perception Questionnaire, and a Childhood Development Questionnaire were administered. An assessment was made by trained medical investigators as to whether the patients symptoms were medically unexplained or accounted for by organic pathology. Results: We found that 17 out of 56 patients (30%) had medically unexplained symptoms. Such patients complained of a greater number of symptoms, were more anxious, were more likely to have a past history of depression, and were more likely to attribute their illness to stress than patients with a presumed organic basis for their disease. They were also more likely to have been in foster care as children. High levels of depression and anxiety were strongly associated with the number of physical symptoms and the perceived negative consequences of the illness. Conclusions: The recognition and treatment of anxiety and depressive disorders may contribute to the management of patients with medically unexplained symptoms. Open discussion of beliefs regarding aetiology are also likely to be of benefit regardless of the presence or absence of organic pathology.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)16-20
    Number of pages4
    JournalIrish Journal of Psychological Medicine
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2001


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