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Br J Psychol. 2017 May;108(2):318-333. doi: 10.1111/bjop.12198. Epub 2016 May 25.

Life events and functional somatic symptoms: A population study in older adolescents.

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Interdisciplinary Center Psychopathology and Emotion regulation (ICPE), University of Groningen, University Medical Center Groningen, The Netherlands.


The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of negative life events on functional somatic symptoms (FSSs) in adolescents, based on data from 957 participants of the population cohort TRacking Adolescents' Individual Lives Survey. Life events experienced between age 16 and age 19 were assessed with the Kendler's Life Stress interview. FSSs at age 19 and age 16 were measured with the Youth and Adult Self-Report. The hypotheses were tested by the use of a latent change model. Life events predicted FSSs, even when adjusted for pre-event levels of FSSs, symptoms of anxiety and depression, and socio-economic status (B = 0.006, 95% CI [0.003, 0.008], β = .32). Whereas illness-related life events did not predict FSSs independently (B = -0.003, 95% CI [-0.005, 0.09], β = .05), non-illness-related life events did (B = 0.007, 95% CI [0.004, 0.010], β = .31). A past-year diagnosis of anxiety and/or depression had a significant influence on the association between life events and FSSs (B = 0.37, 95% CI [0.30, 0.46], β = .71), while female sex, exposure to childhood adversities, and family malfunctioning had not. In conclusion, our findings show that FSSs are associated with negative life events in older adolescents. We did not find evidence for stronger effects of illness-related events.


adolescence; adversity; medically unexplained symptoms; negative event; stressor; young adult

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