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Psychol Med. 2002 Nov;32(8):1387-94.

Psychiatric and somatic disorders and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) in 264 'environmental patients'.

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Psychiatric Clinic and Department of Toxicology, I, Medical Clinic, Technical University of Munich, Germany.



An increasing number of individuals with diverse health complaints are currently seeking help in the field of environmental medicine. Multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) or idiopathic environmental intolerances (IEI) is defined as an acquired disorder with multiple recurrent symptoms associated with environmental chemicals in low concentrations that are well tolerated by the majority of people. Their symptoms are not explained by any known psychiatric or somatic disorder.


Within a 2-year period we examined 264 of 267 consecutive patients prospectively presenting to a university based out-patient department for environmental medicine. Patients underwent routine medical examination, toxicological analysis and the structured clinical interview for DSM-IV psychiatric disorders (SCID).


Seventy-five per cent of the patients met DSM-IV criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder and 35% of all patients suffered from somatoform disorders. Other frequent diagnoses were affective and anxiety disorders, and dependence or substance abuse. In 39% a psychiatric disorder, in 23% a somatic condition and in 19% a combination of the two were considered to provide sufficient explanation of the symptoms. Toxic chemicals were regarded as the most probable cause in only five cases. The suspected diagnosis of MCS/IEI could not be sustained in the vast majority of cases.


This investigation confirms previous findings that psychiatric morbidity is high in patients presenting to specialized centres for environmental medicine. Somatoform disorders are the leading diagnostic category, and there is reason to believe that certain 'environmental' or MCS patients form a special subgroup of somatoform disorders. In most cases, symptoms can be explained by well-defined psychiatric and medical conditions other than MCS, which need specific treatment. Further studies should focus on provocation testing in order to find positive criteria for MCS and on therapeutic approaches that consider psychiatric aspects.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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