, Volume 41, Issue 9, pp 704-712
Date: 22 Jun 2006

Somatization in the population: from mild bodily misperceptions to disabling symptoms

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Abstract

Objective

This study investigates the prevalence of current somatization in the population by taking different levels of symptom severity into account. Somatization is described along a continuum from mild and negligible bodily misperceptions to severe and disabling somatoform symptoms.

Methods

A representative sample of 2.552 persons in Germany was examined with a screening instrument for medically unexplained physical complaints that had occurred during the past 7 days. All 53 symptoms from the ICD-10/DSM-IV sections of somatoform disorders were included.

Results

81.6% reported at least one symptom causing at least mild impairment and 22.1% at least one symptom causing severe impairment. The entire sample had an average of 6.6 symptoms associated with at least mild distress. Somatization of any degree was associated with female gender, age above 45, lower educational level, lower household income and rural area. The most common symptoms with prevalence rates > 20% were various types of pain (back, head, joints, extremities), food intolerance, sexual indifference, painful menstruations and erectile/ejaculatory dysfunction.

Conclusion

This population survey demonstrates that medically unclear complaints are an everyday phenomenon. About three out of four cases are below clinical relevance with only low level of impairment. Epidemiological correlates are similar between clinical and non-clinical forms of somatization.