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Eur Psychiatry. 2002 Oct;17(6):321-31.

The natural course of DSM-IV somatoform disorders and syndromes among adolescents and young adults: a prospective-longitudinal community study.

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  • 1Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, Clinical Psychology and Epidemiology Unit, Kraepelinstr 2, Munich, Germany.



Although somatoform disorders are assumed to be chronic clinical conditions, epidemiological knowledge on their natural course based on representative samples is not available.


Data come from a prospective epidemiologic study of adolescents and young adults in Munich, Germany. Respondents' diagnoses (N = 2548) at baseline and follow-up on average 42 months later are considered. The follow-up incidence, stability as well as selected baseline risk factors (sociodemographics, psychopathology, trauma exposure) for the incidence and stability of somatoform disorders and syndromes are prospectively examined. Diagnostic information was assessed by using the standardized Munich-Composite International Diagnostic Interview (M-CIDI).


Over the follow-up period, incidence rate for any of the covered somatoform diagnoses was 25.7%. Stability for the overall group of any somatoform disorder/syndrome was 48%. Female gender, lower social class, the experience of any substance use, anxiety and affective disorder as well as the experience of traumatic sexual and physical threat events predicted new onsets of somatoform conditions, while stability was predicted by being female, prior existing substance use, affective and eating disorders as well as the experience of a serious accident.


At least for a substantial proportion of individuals, the overall picture of somatization seems to be relatively stable, but with fluctuation in the symptom picture over time. Being female, the experience of substance use as well as anxiety disorder seem to constitute risk factors for the onset of new somatoform conditions as well as for a stable course over time.

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