Medically unexplained symptoms in women

Vedat S ¸ar

in Oxford Textbook of Women and Mental Health

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

ISBN: 9780199214365
Published online July 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199640454 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Textbooks

Medically unexplained symptoms in women

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The concept of medically unexplained symptoms (MUS) covers a broad range of phenomena. Both subjective complaints (e.g. psychogenic pain) and objective physical (pseudoneurological) symptoms of motor and/or sensory type (conversion disorder) may belong to this spectrum. MUS constitute somatoform disorders in psychiatric nosology. Covering multiple bodily symptoms of both objective and subjective type, somatization disorder is the most severe end of this spectrum. There are also MUS not covered by psychiatric nomenclature, such as irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia (Wessely et al. 1999). They are thought to be as physical conditions affected by psychological factors (formerly psychosomatic disorders).

All somatoform disorders are more common among women than men in the general population; in one study, somatization and conversion disorders were seen only among female participants (Faravelli et al. 1997). In another study, gender rate of somatoform pain disorder was 2:1 in the general population (Grabe et al. 2003a). In a town in western Turkey, the prevalence of conversion disorder was 1.6% among men but 8.9% among women in the general population (Deveci et al. 2007). The age group 15–34 and those who had a mother with a psychiatric disorder were at risk in particular. In medical settings, somatoform disorders among internal medical patients are especially prevalent among young women (Fink et al. 2004). According to medical public outpatient records in Finland, somatization was associated with female sex, lower educational level, and increased psychiatric morbidity (Karvonen et al. 2007). More girls than boys are affected by somatoform disorders also among adolescents (Essau et al. 1999). Thus, the predominance of women among subjects with MUS is a common finding shared by studies in diverse cultures, on various age groups, and both in clinical and non-clinical settings.

Chapter.  4955 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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