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Fam Pract. 2001 Oct;18(5):519-23.

Medically unexplained symptoms--GPs' attitudes towards their cause and management.

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  • 1Academic Department of Psychological Medicine, Guy's King's and St Thomas' School of Medicine and Institute of Psychiatry, London SE5 8AZ, UK.



Medically unexplained physical symptoms present one of the most common problems in modern medical practice but often prove difficult to manage. The central position of the GP in the care of patients with medically unexplained symptoms has been emphasized repeatedly, but little is known about the attitudes of GPs to this role. Understanding how GPs view these patients may inform the development of effective strategies for management.


Our aim was to survey the attitudes of UK GPs towards medically unexplained symptoms (MUS) and somatization.


A random sample of 400 GPs in the South Thames (West) region were surveyed using a postal questionnaire. Respondents' attitudes toward the cause and management of MUS were recorded.


A total of 284 completed questionnaires were returned (22 returned incomplete), giving an adjusted response rate of 75%. Although it was broadly felt that patients with MUS are difficult to manage, most GPs felt that patients with MUS should be managed in primary care. Providing reassurance, counselling and acting as a 'gatekeeper' to prevent inappropriate investigations were considered important roles for GP management. A majority felt that patients with MUS have personality problems or psychiatric illness. Fewer than half of the respondents felt that there are effective treatments available for somatization.


GPs consider the management of patients with MUS to be an important part of their workload, but there is a perception that effective management strategies are lacking. Psychiatrists need to offer greater support and training for GPs in this area of health care.

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