Somatisation and alexithymia in patients with high use of medical care and medically unexplained symptoms

Rasmussen, Norman H.; Agerter, David C.; Colligan, Robert C.; Baird, Macaran A.; Yunghans, Charles E.; Cha, Stephen S.
September 2008
Mental Health in Family Medicine;2008, Vol. 5 Issue 3, p139
Academic Journal
Background and objective Few reports in the medical literature examine physician agreement on a standard assessment for somatisation in primary care patients. We describe somatising patients who were subjectively identified by family physicians and subsequently classified on the somatisation spectrum by a standard evaluation. We also examine the relation between somatisation and alexithymia. Method Responding to a brief verbal prompt, family physicians referred high-utilising patients 18 years old and older who had 'persistent medically unexplained symptoms for at least 6 months' (n = 72). Patients who agreed to participate in the study (n = 48) were assessed individually using a structured diagnostic interview and two measures of alexithymia. Results All participating patients met inclusion criteria for one of two abridged subtypes on the somatisation spectrum. Somatisation was not related to alexithymia. Conclusions Family physicians subjectively identified patients who had somatisation, with a high level of accuracy and without formal screening or diagnostic tests. Embedded in a disease-management system, especially an electronic version, a brief verbal prompt to physicians to identify patients on the somatisation spectrum could potentially realise considerable savings in physician time and medical system financial expenditures.


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