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Br J Gen Pract. Mar 1995; 45(392): 143–147.
PMCID: PMC1239175

Somatic presentation of psychiatric morbidity in general practice.


BACKGROUND. Twenty per cent of new illnesses in general practice, and 3% of consecutive attenders, are incident cases of 'pure' somatization. AIM. This study set out to estimate the prevalence of consultations by patients with psychiatric morbidity who present only somatic symptoms (somatic presentation), and to compare this with the likely prevalence of pure somatization. METHOD. A cross-sectional survey of consecutive general practice attenders was carried out. Psychiatric morbidity was measured using the general health questionnaire. Pure somatization was defined as medical consultation for somatic symptoms that were judged by a psychiatrist during an interview to be aetiologically attributable to an underlying psychiatric disorder but which were not recognized as such by the patient. RESULTS. Of attenders 25% were identified as somatic presenters. Of the somatic presenters interviewed one in six were estimated to be pure somatizers, which would extrapolate to 4% of attenders. Though all somatic presenters were probable cases of psychiatric disorder, subjects in this group had lower scores on the general health questionnaire than those who presented with psychological symptoms. General practitioner recognition of psychiatric morbidity was significantly lower among somatic presenters than for other subjects with psychiatric morbidity. CONCLUSION. General practitioner recognition of psychiatric morbidity could be improved for all types of somatic presentation, regardless of the aetiology of patients' somatic symptoms. There is a danger that concentrating attention on pure somatization may mean that psychiatric morbidity in the more common undifferentiated form of somatic presentation will be overlooked.

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Selected References

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